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Sordello, 



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SORDELLO 



SORDELLO 



ROBERT DROWNING 

EDITED BY 

THE REV. ARTHUR J. WHYTE, M.A. 

GOLD MEDALLIST AND SENIOR MODERATOR IN HISTORY 
IN THE UNIVERSITY OF DUBLIN 




J. M. DENT & SONS, LTD. 
LONDON AND TORONTO 1913 

NEW YORK : E. P. DUTTON & CO. 

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•<4// >T£i4/.r reserved 



PREFACE 

The following edition of Sordello is an attempt to treat 
the poem from a critical and historical standpoint. 
As far as I am aware no previous edition has been 
published upon these lines. There are many essays 
upon the poem, some of which are of great value ; there 
are also a variety of " notes " in book form and at least 
one elaborate exposition of the whole poem. 1 None 
of these efforts seem to be quite what the poem requires. 
They all have the disadvantage of excluding the text, 
so that to study the poem two books or more are needed 
at the same time. The present edition aims at com- 
bining both text and notes on the same lines as the 
plays of Shakespeare are treated in critical editions. 
That Sordello is worthy of serious critical study no 
student of Browning will gainsay, but even a well- 
equipped reader will admit that it makes very ex- 
ceptional demands in the way of historical knowledge. 
Three objects have been kept in view : to explain the 
historical allusions, to separate what is historical from 
what is imaginative, and to simplify the confusion of 
the text by means of side-notes. With regard to this 
last point, the extreme difficulty of finding one's way 
about the poem and often of identifying the speaker 
make such treatment imperative. The difficulty about 

1 Mr Dufi, in his Exposition of Sordello, has translated the 
entire poem into prose, and added many explanations and notes, 
to which, in the elucidation of obscure passages, I have often 
been much indebted. The most helpful of the essays on the 
poem are those of Mr J. T. Nettleship, Dean Church, and 
Mr Stopford A. Brooke. 

Notes signed "D." are taken from Mr Duff's work. 



vi SORDELLO 

the foot-notes, where not simply historical, has been one 
of proportion. A running commentary is objection- 
able, and to indicate the meaning in a few words almost 
impossible. In many places I have thought it best to 
avoid comment altogether rather than be tempted into 
too much paraphrase. It is to be hoped that in giving 
the extracts from the sources in the original confusion 
has not been made worse confounded, but in a critical 
edition it is necessary to be exact. I should here like to 
express my sense of obligation to Sir Frederic Kenyon 
and the Rev. Philip Wicksteed for their kindness in 
reading the work in manuscript, and for much helpful 
and suggestive criticism. To the late Professor Edward 
Dowden, also, I owe a very real debt of gratitude. The 
keen interest, I might almost say enthusiasm, shown 
in his letters to me after reading the work, will be a 
memory I shall always cherish with peculiar pride. 

I am indebted to the courtesy of Messrs Smith Elder 
for permission to use the latest revised text. 

ARTHUR J. WHYTE 

Rodley, Leeds, 1913 



CONTENTS 



PACK 



The Characters ix 

List of Events and Dates in " Sordello " . x 

House of Romano xi 

The House of Salinguerra . . . . xii 

House of Adelardi xii 

Introduction i 

Book 1 37 

Book II 83 

Book III 129 

Book IV 175 

Book V 219 

Book VI 261 

Index 299 



THE CHARACTERS 

GHIBELLINES. GUELFS. 

The Emperor Frederic II. The Pope Honorius III. 

Ecelin da Romano (the Monk). Azzo VII. of Este 

Richard, Count of San Bonifacio 

Montelungo, the Papal Legate. 
His wives — 

Agnes Este (dead), mother of 
Palma. 

Adelaide, mother of Ecelin 
and Alberic. 

Taurello Salinguerra. His wife 
Retrude and son Sordello. 

Count Mainard. 

Tito, the Imperial Pretor. 

Elcorte, an archer, reputed 
father of Sordello. 



LIST OF EVENTS AND DATES IN 
SORDELLO 



Birth of Ecelin the Monk . 

Birth of Ecelin the Tyrant . 

Expulsion from Vicenza 

Battle of Ponte Alto and death of Azzo 
and Richard of San Bonifacio (Elder) 

Death of Adelaide 

Retirement of Ecelin to Oliero 

Sack of Palace of Salinguerra at Ferrara 

Capture of Richard at Ferrara 

The League renewed . 

Death of Ecelin the Monk . 

Capture of Salinguerra at Ferrara 

Death of Salinguerra at Venice . 

Death of Ecelin the Tyrant 

Death of Alberic and Family 



. 1150A.D. 
J- 1194 A.D. 
VI. 

1212 A.D. 



. 1224 A.D. 

. 1226 A.D. 

. I234 A.D 

. I24O A.D. 

. 1245 A.D. 

. I258 A.D. 

. I26o A.D. 




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THE HOUSE OF SALINGUERRA 
(From Frizzi's Historia di Ferrara) 

Pietro Torelli, alive in 1083 and in 1119 a.d. 

Salinguerra, alive in 11 20, dead in 1163 

(Ludovico ?) Torello, alive in 1164, dead in 1195 

Salinguerra II., born about 1160, died 1245 
Married (i) Retrude 

(ii) Sofia, widow of Henry of Egna and 
sister to the last Ezzelino. 
W I (2) 

I II III 

Bartolommeo Anveno Tommaso Salinguerra Rizzardo Giacom 



HOUSE OF ADELARDI 



Bulgaro 

I 



Marchesalla 



Guglielmo 



Guglielmo 



Adelardo 



daughter 



Marchesalla 
(daughter) 



Giacomo 
or 

Guglielmo 



Linguetta 



xii 



INTRODUCTION 

(i) Sordello was published in 1840, when Browning was 
in his twenty-eighth year. It had been preceded by 
Pauline (1833), Paracelsus (1835), and Strafford (1837), 
together with a few short occasional pieces mostly con- 
tributed to magazines. It was revised by Browning a 
quarter of a century later for the three-volume edition 
of his works published by Smith Elder in 1863. 

Abstruse as the subject is, Browning's poem is not 
absolutely unique, for, curiously enough, in 1837, a t the 
very time our poet was engaged upon his work, there 
appeared two volumes of Plays and Poems, by Mrs 
William Busk, of which the most pretentious was 
Sordello, a poem of 2000 lines in rhymed tetrameter 
verse. 1 

(2) How the subject came to him we are not told, 
but it is evident from the poem itself that it was the study 
of Dante which suggested it to his mind. Sordello 
appears as the guide of Virgil and Dante in the sixth 
canto of the Purgatorio. There are, however, but very 
slight indications of anything that directly suggests 
Browning's hero. He is represented as standing alone, 
which, as in the case of Saladin and our own Henry III., 
signifies in Dante that in life he was conspicuously unlike 
others, and he is further alluded to as " tutta in se 
romita," " all wrapt in self," " self-absorbed." Apart 
from these two very slight hints there is nothing that 
suggests that Browning was indebted to Dante for more 
than the bare name and idea of Sordello's personality. 

But although the Sordello of Browning's pencil is a 
very different figure from that drawn by Dante, yet 
in spirit there is a close similarity. The fundamental 

1 Professor Hall Griffin suggests that the publication of Mrs 
Busk's poem may have been the cause of Browning's wide 
divergence from the lines of the historical Sordello. See Life 
of Browning, p. 92. 
A 



2 SORDELLO 

idea of the Sordello of the Purgatorio is of one to whom 
success came at last after a life of failure. This 
Browning retained, and for it, as he afterwards tacitly 
acknowledged, he was indebted to Dante. In a letter 
written to Miss Barrett, some years later, the following 
passage occurs : " Yesterday I was reading the Purgatorio, 
and the first speech of the group of which Sordello 
makes one struck me with a new significance, as well 
describing the man and his purpose and fate in my 
poem — see ; one of the burdened, contorted souls tells 
Virgil and Dante — 

" Noi fummo gia tutti per forza morti 
E peccatori infin' all' ultim' ora 
Quivi-Xame del ciel ne fece accorti ; 
Si che, pentendo e perdonando, fora 
Di vita uscimme a Dio pacificati . 
che del disio de se veder n'accora" ; 

which is just my Sordello's story. Could I " do " it 
'offhand I wonder — 

" And sinners were we to the extreme hour 
Then light from heaven fell, making us aware 
so that repenting us and pardoned, out 
Of life we passed to God, at peace with him 
who fills the heart with yearning Him to see." 

Apart from Sordello there are various other traces of 
Dante's influence in the poem. In the sixth book 
Browning identifies Palma with the Cunizza of the 
Paradiso. Dante's championship of this remarkable 
woman is somewhat difficult to explain, but perhaps the 
reputed piety of her later life was the factor which assured 
her place in Paradise combined with the natural sympathy 
Dante would feel towards one whose destiny was to love 
not wisely but too well. This is the explanation she 
herself offers to Dante. 

" Cunizza fui chiamata, e qui refulgo 
perche me vinse il lume d'esta Stella ! " 

Somewhat of the same note is found in Browning's lines 
on Palma, where he says — 

" success 
concerned not Palma, passion's votaress." 

1 Letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, vol. i. 



SORDELLO 3 

Again, the passage in the second book, where Sordello is 
pictured " hammering out " a new language for himself 
the better to express his thoughts, recalls Dante's tribute 
to Sordello as one of the founders of the Italian speech 
(De vulgari eloquentia, Bk. i.). This same passage most 
likely inspired the portrait of Sordello as Dante's fore- 
runner (Bk. i. 350) — 

" Sordello, Thy forerunner, Florentine ! " 

(3) The reception which was accorded to Sordello when 
it appeared early in 1840 was hardly an encouragement 
to its author. The press notices were few and brief; 
but Browning was already getting used to unsympathetic 
treatment from this quarter, and it does not seem to have 
troubled him. But even to those of his friends who were 
most enthusiastic Sordello seems to have come as a great 
disappointment. 

Harriet Martineau was so utterly unable to under- 
stand it that she supposed herself ill. Carlyle made 
sarcastic remarks on the subject, declaring that his wife 
had read it through without being able to make out 
whether Sordello was a man or a city or a book. 

Walter Savage Landor wrote : "I only wish he (i.e. 
Browning) would Atticize a little. Few of the Athenians 
had such a quarry on their property, but they made 
better roads for the conveyance of their material ! " 

Alfred Domett, to whom Browning sent a copy, pro- 
tested that Browning was " difficult on system," and 
received a characteristic reply that the difficulty was due 
to his living and writing by himself and forgetting that 
others could not " comprehend his comprehensions " as 
clearly as he did himself. 1 

The criticism of Browning's friends and contemporaries 
was just. No amount of editing can make Sordello 
easy readingj but it is perhaps possible to render it more 
intelligible than it appears at first to be. 

(4) If the poem is still a genuine difficulty in an age 
which is comparatively familiar with Browning's idiom, 
it may well have appeared utterly unintelligible to the 
reading public of 1840. Edmund Gosse, in his Personalia, 
has the following passage describing the state into which 

1 See Kenyon's Robert Browning and Alfred Domett, p. 28. 



4 SORDELLO 

poetry had fallen at that time : " In 1838 the condition 
of English poetry was singularly tame and namby- 
pamby. Tennyson's voice was only heard by a few. 
The many delighted in poor ' L. E. L.,' whose sentimental 
' golden violets ' and gushing improvvisatores had found 
a tragic close at Cape Coast Castle. Among living 
poets the most popular were good old James Mont- 
gomery, droning on at his hopeless insipidities and graceful 
' goodnesses ' ; the Hon. Mrs Norton, a sort of soda-water 
Byron, and poor rambling T. K. Hervey. . . . These 
virtuous and now almost forgotten poetasters had 
brought the art of poetry into such disesteem with their 
puerilities and their diluted sentiment that verse was 
beginning to be considered unworthy of exercise by a 
serious or original thinker ! " 

It was no wonder that a public fed on " thin soup " 
of this type should find Sordello a form of nourishment 
which it had neither the inclination nor the physical 
capacity to digest. 

(5) The difficulties which the reader experiences upon 
first reading Sordello arise mainly from two causes : first, 
there are those due to the nature of the subject itself 
and to the intricacies of the period in which the action 
is placed ; and, secondly, there are those which have their 
origin in the poet's method of treatment, structural and 
textual. With regard to the first of those, it is obvious 
that a poem whose action is confessedly psychological 
must on the face of it be less interesting to the majority 
of readers than a romance of the usual kind. The average 
reader does not turn to poetry to read psychological 
analysis. A spiritual crisis is not as absorbing as a 
physical one. Matters are not improved when the 
setting is placed in one of the most difficult and intricate 
periods of modern history, with which we can only be 
tolerably conversant after considerable study. Yet 
this is what every reader of Sordello has to face, and 
Browning's own equipment for the task only makes it 
more difficult. 

(6) It has been pointed out that Browning's obscurity 
is very often the result of his very grasp of the subject, 
and this is conspicuously true of Sordello. Browning 
was full to overflowing of information. It was all quite 
clear to him. Names of people and places and events 



SORDELLO 5 

that no one has ever heard of were stored in his amazing 
memory, and take their places in his pages as naturally 
as if he had lived among them. He gives us no explana- 
tions, just as if everyone else were as well informed as 
he was himself. This has to be borne in mind, for it 
often happens that the sudden intrusion of some character 
sets the reader wondering who this is and what he has to 
do with the story, when, as a matter of fact, he is just 
dragged in out of the poet's brain merely to add vivid- 
ness to the scene. There are numerous examples of this 
throughout Sordello : Bianca, Lucio, Pilio, and Bernardo 
are people who appear for this purpose, and disappear at 
once. Another difficulty arises from the want of per- 
spective. The historical and psychological aspects 
are not kept in proportion. The historical background 
frequently intrudes into the foreground, and, in con- 
sequence, what should only be of secondary interest 
takes the first place. In the same way the prominence 
given to Salinguerra often obscures Sordello and makes 
us forget who is the leading character. This want of 
perspective is even more conspicuous in regard to the 
time unities in the poem. It begins in the middle, and 
then, after a few hundred lines, the action suddenly goes 
back thirty years and proceeds to trace the history across 
the interval. The first book occupies the first twenty 
years of Sordello's life, the second gives us the next 
ten, and the rest of the poem, after passing over very 
briefly the few months of Sordello's retirement at Goito, 
records the history of three days ! The digression in the 
middle of the third book will be considered elsewhere ; it 
is sufficient to mention here that Browning suddenly 
leaves Sordello and his history altogether and gives us a 
disquisition on the proper function of a poet, and much 
besides, which extends to nearly five hundred lines, and 
that without any break in the text and with no further 
explanation of what is happening than an overloaded 
simile about his " transcendental platan " {i.e. the poem), 
and the cryptic remark that it were good his soul " were 
suffered go o'er the lagune." 

(7) Apart from the difficulties of form and matter, 
Sordello presents difficulties of style which are as great as, 
if not greater than, anything he ever wrote. The first 
and most conspicuous of these is abnormal condensation. 



6 SORDELLO 

This is due in part to Browning's natural style ; for he 
wrote very quickly, revised lightly, and wrote just as 
he thought. His letters to his wife are in some places 
a kind of literary shorthand, and his poems have some- 
thing of the same character. In the particular case 
of Sordello this natural tendency was deliberately 
accentuated by a somewhat foolish and unnecessary 
criticism of Paracelsus as " verbose." " Mr John 
Sterling," says Mrs Orr, " had made some comments on 
the wording of Paracelsus ; and Miss Caroline Fox, 
then quite a young woman, repeated them, with additions, 
to Miss Haworth, who in her turn communicated them to 
Mr Browning, but without making quite clear to him 
the source from which they sprang. He took the 
criticism much more seriously than it deserved, and con- 
densed the language of this his next important publica- 
tion into what was nearly its present form." As an 
example of the confusion caused in this way we may 
instance the lines in Bk. iii. ia — 

" Woven of painted byssus, silkiest 
Tufting the Tyrrhene whelk's pearl-sheeted lip." 

Taken by itself the second line reads as if " Tufting " 
was a verb and that a substantive should be supplied 
for " silkiest," but " Tufting " is the substantive with 
the possessive case omitted, and the line should read — 

" silkiest 
Tufting (of the) Tyrrhene's whelk's pearl-sheeted lip." 

Another passage (1. 34) gives us an even better example — 

" Sordello well or ill 
is finished : then what further use of will, 
Point in the prime idea not realized, 
An oversight ? inordinately prized 
No less, and pampered with enough of each 
delight to prove the whole above its reach." 

Here Browning omits to give us the key to the whole 
passage, which is what the " prime idea * was, leaving 
it to be deduced by the reader from the previous line. 
He also omits to say clearly that " his will " (which is 
the prime idea) has failed. Expanded, it means that 
" In the prime idea, which was to move mankind simply 
by his Will, he omitted the possibility of its failing ; 



SORDELLO 7 

which was certainly a point not realized, an oversight. 
He had prized his will inordinately, and now it has 
failed, he sees how the very degree of success which it 
obtained in isolated cases should have shown him that 
success on a large scale was hopeless. His successes 
were exceptions which should have proved to him the 
rule of failure, but did not." All through the poem this 
expansion has to be made by the reader, and un- 
fortunately it is only familiarity with the story generally 
which gives us facility in so doing. 

Another cause of confusion which cannot be avoided 
is Browning's weakness for parentheses. These are 
sometimes explanatory of the situation, sometimes 
additional detail added, and sometimes comments either 
by the crowd or by Browning himself criticizing the 
action of the speaker. Some of these will be found 
indicated either in the margin or in the notes, but they 
are too numerous to instance, and all that can be done is 
to warn the reader to be ready for them. 

(8) It may be well here to warn the reader also against 
trying to read too much into the text. Browning's use 
of allusions, names, and bits of out-of-the-way informa- 
tion have often enough very little significance. 

It would have been well if he had removed many of 
these, but as he did not, we may take it that this is an 
intrinsic feature of his style and accept it as such. 

Take, for example, the lines in Bk. vi. 140 — 

" Next half month lacks 
mere sturdy exercise of mace and axe 
To cleave this dismal brake of prickly pear 
which bristling holds Cydippe by the hair 
Lames barefoot Agathon ! " 

The names here sound like some classical allusion, and 
there is a tale of Cydippe and Acontius which tells how 
Acontius, falling in love with Cydippe and unable to 
win her, threw her an apple with some verses inscribed 
declaring his passion. Cydippe having read them, was 
held to be bound thereby, and married him. It is 
obvious to anyone who reads the passage that Browning's 
allusion has nothing to do with this story, and that he 
has simply used the names as typical figures to add life 
to his picture. The use of strange names of this kind 
is common with Browning ; he picked them up in his 



8 SORDELLO 

reading and kept them by him for use without any de- 
finite reference to the sources from which they came. 
" Strojavacca," " Dularete," " Tagliafer " all occur 
in Verci's Storia degli Ecelini, but in connections which 
have nothing to do with the poet's use of them in 
Sordello. Sufficient research would probably reveal 
the sources of all his strange incidental characters in 
the same way. 

(9) A word should be said regarding the similes 
throughout the poem. When a simile occurred to 
Browning's mind he had the faculty of seeing the whole 
scene at once and complete, down to the minutest detail. 
While this power gives extraordinary vividness to the 
picture, it led to much overloading of the text. Litera- 
ture differs from painting inasmuch as it is not possible 
to get the same perspective in matters of detail. Words 
cannot be made to give a sense of distance or smallness, 
and in consequence everything appears on the canvas 
the same size. The result with Browning is either 
that the simile is much too long or that it is too full of 
detail, and in consequence confusing. Take the de- 
scription of Sordello expanding once more in nature's 
arms — 

" He expanded to himself again 
As some thin seedling spice tree starved and frail 
Pushing between cat's head and ibis' tail 
Crusted into the porphyry pavement smooth. 
Suffered remain just as it sprang, to soothe 
The Soldan's pining daughter, never yet 
well in her chilly green glazed minaret 
When rooted up the sunny day she died, 
And flung into the common court beside 
Its parent tree." 

Here is everything. The girl, her health, parentage, 
home and death, down to the pattern on the pavement 
and the weather on the day of her decease, as well as 
the life story of the seedling itself, with sidelights on 
the character of the gardener and the Soldan himself, 
all in under ten lines. It is like one of Gerard 
Dow's interiors without the perspective, and suffers in 
consequence in being too full and difficult to grasp in 
reading. 

While this offers us a good example of the concentrated 
simile, those of the sailor in Bk. iii. and the Ethiopian 



SORDELLO 9 

king in Bk. v. afford examples of similes which are 
too long drawn out, so that the reader's mind forgets 
the subject of which the simile is meant to be illustrative. 
The one thing about them is that they can never 
be forgotten, whether it be that Ethiopian king 
" off striding to the mountains of the moon " or the 
" poor gnome " — 

" that cloistered up 
In some rock chamber with his agate cup 
His topaz rod, his seed pearl, in these few 
And their arrangement finds enough to do 
For his best art." 

(10) The difficulties and faults of Sordetto are so patent 
that one is apt to forget its great and undeniable beauties. 
In the concluding lines of the poem Browning tells us 
with characteristic obscurity of method that if read 
it will leave behind an " after-gust " due to the " savour's 
rareness," which, being translated, means that its very 
strangeness and difficulty will make us want to go back 
to it again and get at the bottom of it. Not only is 
this true, but even a first reading reveals beauties un- 
surpassed by anything he wrote afterwards. Not only 
are the descriptions of the places and people incompar- 
able, but we get priceless lines and couplets that be- 
come a joy for ever to the discoverer, but which at 
present lie like gems embedded in an untouched soil. 
Whole books have been written on Browning void of a 
single line from Sordello, and the only couplet that 
seems to have emerged into the public ken occurs in the 
first five hundred lines — 

" New pollen on the lily petal grows 
And still more labyrinthine buds the rose." 

It may perhaps stimulate readers to verify the truth 
as to the treasures of Sordello if we quote a few lines 
here and there. What could surpass, for instance, this 
picture of the Dragon-fly — 

" Flittered in the cool some azure damsel-fly 
Born of the simmering quiet, there to die," 

or this of an early morning — 

" The breezy morning fresh 
above, and merry, all his waving mesh 
Laughing with lucid dewdrops rainbow-edged." 



io S0RDELL0 

Single lines such as — 

" The tempter of the everlasting steppe," 
" The blind night seas without a saving star," 
" Richard, light-hearted as a plunging star," 

passages of pure lyrical beauty, abound in every book and 
are too numerous to quote. We will give two examples, 
that of Sordello returning from Mantua heartbroken and 
disappointed, but now once more feeling the magic 
influence of his kindly nurse, nature, and one of Sordello's 
pictures of what might have been, a life of simple idyllic 
love. 

(i) " Come home Sordello ! soon 

was he low muttering beneath the moon 
of sorrow saved, of quiet evermore 
How from his purposes maintained before 
only resulted wailing arid hot tears." 

(2) " Not any strollings now at even close 

Down the field-path Sordello ! by thorn rows 

alive with lamp-flies, swimming spots of fire 

and dew, outlining the black cypress' spire 

She waits you at, Elys, who heard you first 

Woo her, the snow month through, but ere she durst 

Answer 'twas April. Linden-flower-time-long 

Her eyes were on the ground ; 'tis July strong 

Now : and because white dust clouds overwhelm 

The woodside, here or by the village elm 

That holds the moon, she meets you, somewhat pale, 

But letting you lift up her coarse flax veil 

And whisper (the damp little hand in yours) 

of love, heart's love, your heart's love that endures 

Till death." 

The portraits in Sordello form a gallery by themselves, 
from Sordello on his first appearance 

" A slender boy in a loose page's dress," 

And Salinguerra, of whom we are told — 

" Men understood 
Living was pleasant to him as he wore 
His careless surcoat, glanced some missive o'er 
Propped on his truncheon in the public way," 

down to the lesser characters such as the Legate 
Montelungo — 



SORDELLO ii 

" The Legate, look ! 
With eyes, like fresh blown thrush eggs on a thread 
Faint blue and loosely floating in his head 
Large tongue, moist open mouth : " 

And besides this we have various examples of that rapid 
characterization which like a pencil caricature picks 
out a personality in half a dozen words. Adelaide 
"the meagre Tuscan," " Strojovacca," who "looks 
asquint the fat rough sloven," and many others 
scattered throughout the poem. 

It would be easy to go on multiplying examples 
illustrating every aspect of Browning's art, but such 
would be out of place. One point there is which readers 
should notice and that is Browning's command of 
" atmosphere." As instances, the opening of the last 
book breathing a sense of almost unearthly peace which 
quite unwittingly prepares us for the passing of Sordello, 
almost as if the book were headed with Spenser's lines — 

" Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas 
Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please." 

In contrast take Salinguerra's description of the ex- 
pulsion from Vicenza which sounds as if they were his 
thoughts ejaculated between his breaths as he fights. 
As we read we feel that it gives us exactly what passed 
through bis mind wedged in between cut and thrust. 
The contrast between the autumn stillness in Verona and 
the scene of wild excitement in the square is another 
passage. The reader can find many others for himself, 
(n) We have the authority of Mrs Orr for the state- 
ment that the subject once chosen, Browning read no 
less than thirty volumes upon it in the British Museum. 
It would be necessary to have a list of these books and 
many more besides to verify and explain all the allusions 
in the poem. The work, however, which undoubtedly 
gave Browning the greatest assistance was the three 
volumes of Verci's Storia degli Ecelini. 1 From this 

1 Published at Venice in 1770. The introduction contains a 
study of the origin of the family and an examination of the 
authorities. Vol. i. traces the private affairs of the family, 
their alliances and histories. The rest of the work is devoted 
to their public life and the part they played in the affairs of 
Lombardy. The work contains also many extracts from con- 



12 SORDELLO 

he drew the main historical facts upon which he lays 
stress, the expulsion of the Vivaresi from Vicenza in 
1194 and the story of the capture of Count Richard of 
San Bonifacio by Taurello Salinguerra at Ferrara in 
1224. But besides this, as Professor Hall Griffin points 
out, he found in this work most of those historical details 
which give to Sordello such a suggestion of intimate 
knowledge of the period. 

But Browning was not content with mere second- 
hand knowledge, for there is plain evidence that he 
studied the chronicles consulted by Verci for himself. 
That he read, for instance, the Parva Chronica Ferrari- 
ensis is plain from the passage in Bk. vi. 1. 677, where 
he quotes the blind chronicler who noted this obscure 
woe — 

" Of Salinguerra's sole son Giacomo 
Deceased fatuous and doting, ere his sire," 

which is little better than a translation of the passage 
on the death of " Jacobus Salinguerra quoque ejus 
unicus films jam in aetate f actus amicis erat moerari 
gaudio inimicis utpote fatuus et delirus." x 

From the same source he drew the incident of the kid- 
napping of Linguetta, altering it to suit himself, for 
whereas Browning makes Linguetta the daughter of 
Marchesalla, the last of the Adelardi, the chronicler tells 
us that the last of the family was Guglielm, all of whose 
direct heirs were dead except a girl, Marchesalla, whom 
he handed over to Torello Salinguerra (the father) at 
the age of seven to be kept by him until old enough to 
marry his son Taurello, on the condition that if there 
were no children by their union one half of the pro- 
perty should be divided between the two children 

temporary authors and a variety of documents. For Browning's 
indebtedness to Verci, see Notes on Bk. i. 245, 462 ; Bk. ii. 916 ; 
Bk. iv. 32, 41, 345, 608, 682, 736 ; Bk. v. 286 ; Bk. vi. 663, 690. 

1 Verci also says " Ebbe Sophia da Salinguerra un figlio solo 
di nome Jacobo," and adds that he went to Venice with his 
father when captured at Ferrara, but obtained his liberty and 
joined his uncle Ecelin's court at Padua. Browning, however, 
says Sophia had five children (vi. 681). Frizzi, in his History of 
Ferrara, gives five children by Retrude and one by Sophia, 
Giacomo. If this is correct, Browning altered the facts to suit 
his own version of the story, giving right numbers but wrong 
mothers. 



SORDELLO 13 

of his sister, " Joculum et Linguetam " and that the 
other half should go to the hospital of St John of 
Jerusalem. 1 

The account of the final capture of Salinguerra by 
Venice and the allies in 1240 detailed in Bk. vi., 

" She captured him in his Ferrara, fat 
and florid at a banquet, more by fraud 
Than force, to speak the truth," 

is an echo of Riccobaldi Ferrariensis, who gives a full 
account of the whole incident, whereas in the majority 
of the chronicles it is summed up in a few lines and no 
mention made of the banquet. This passage gives us 
a good example of Browning's method. The story is 
told at some length in Verci, who gives Riccobaldi as 
his authority. 

Este in alliance with Alberic da Romano (at this time 
bitterly opposed to his brother), and with a large force 
of Bolognese under the legate Gregorio da Montelungo, 
and aided by a fleet from Venice under the Doge Jacopo 
Tiepolo, besieged Taurello for four months in Ferrara 
without result. Then they tried deceit. They contrived 
to bribe his Lieutenant Ugo da Ramberti, at whose 
suggestion, and probably against his own judgment, 
Taurello accepted their safe conduct and went to the 
enemy's camp to make terms. These having been agreed 
upon, under pretence of seeing him safe they escorted 
him back to Ferrara, and there, says Verci, "under 
various pretexts put him in prison." 

Browning was not satisfied with Verci's account and 
read Riccobaldi, who tells us how Salinguerra on their 
return made them a feast in Ferrara, at which the faith- 
less Ugo da Ramberti began to accuse him in vehement 
language of all kinds of crimes. Taurello replied with 
heat, and his guests alleging the seriousness of such 
charges called in their troops and took him prisoner. 
Salinguerra, seeing the trap into which he had fallen, 
bowed to the inevitable and was deported to Venice. 

1 Adelardus frater ejus et filii Adelardi omnes praeter filiam. 
infantem nomine Marchesallem migraverunt e seculo. Gugliel- 
mus cum prole careret sibi heredem instituit M. in parte patri- 
monii ea conditione. . . . earn suam heredem nondum septennem 
Taurello adversae partis Principi tradiit, ejus filii sponsam 
futuram. See notes on i. 156 ; iv. 36, 91 ; vi. 675. 



14 SORDELLO 

He died five years later, and was accorded a magnificent 
public funeral. 1 

Another work which Browning made use of was the 
Chronicon Estense, from which he drew the burning 
of the Salinguerra palace " et tunc expulsi fuit pars 
Dom. Salinguerra de Ferraria et combusta domus sua." 
From this work comes also the source of the lines — 

" Some grey scorching Saracenic wine 
The Kaiser quaffs with the Miramoline." 

For in a notice of the expulsion of the Moors from Spain 
in 1228 he mentions the " potentia Regis Africas qui 
dicitur Miramolinus," though the same word spelt 
" Mamolinus " is also found in the Chronicon Monachi 
Paduani. 

What Browning seems to have done was to take as his 
main sources Verci and Sismondi's Italian Republics, 
and to consult the authorities quoted by them for 
additional or special knowledge. Sismondi, for instance, 
quotes Pigna's Historia Principi di Este as giving a very 
untrustworthy account of the struggle between Ecelin 
and Azzo. Browning, looking it up, drew from it a hint 
for the lines descriptive of the origin of Este — 

" Atii at Rome while free and consular 
Este at Padua who repulsed the Hun " (i. 286), 

for Pigna opens his history by deriving the family from 
a certain Caio Atio, the father of another Caio Atio, and 
described as " Decurione et Principe di Este." Then he 
traces the family down to his own time, dwelling at 
great length on the Hunnish invasion of Italy under 
Attila and the defence of Padua and Aquileia, in which 
the Este of that day is said to have taken a leading 
part. 

Another passage which may probably be traced to 
Browning's study of the same author is a couplet referring 
to the youth of Salinguerra — 

" Anon the stripling was in Sicily 
Where Heinrich ruled in right of Constance " (iv. 512). 

None of the usual authorities mention this journey 
at all : in fact, they give us very little information as to 

1 See Riccpbaldi "De obsidione Ferrariae," Note on vi. 731. 



SORDELLO 15 

Salinguerra's personal history, but Pigna tells us that 
after the marriage of Azzo with Marchesalla (i.e. Lin- 
guetta), Adelardi, Salinguerra, perceiving that he was 
made equal with the rest of the citizens and not being 
able to stand it, transferred himself in the year 1190 to 
Qesar in Sicily, to whom he complained of the pride of 
Azzo, and so forth. Incidentally we may mention that 
Pigna omits all about the abduction of Linguetta, making 
it appear quite an ordinary marriage, for the Este in his 
eyes could do no wrong. 1 

There is not much in Rolandino that Browning could 
not have found equally well in Verci, if we except the 
lines descriptive of the founder of the House of Romano — 

" The first knight 
Who followed Conrad hither in such plight 
His utmost wealth is summed in his one steed," 

which is obviously drawn from the passage describing how 
Ecelin made friends with the Paduans by pledging his 
fief of Onara " quem olim Ecelinus avus ejus habuerat 
ab Rege Corrado cum quo venerat de Alemannia ab uno 
equo." 

But he may have drawn it equally well from Verci, 
who quotes it in his introduction. 2 

Rolandino is to be found in vol. viii. of Muratori 
(Rerum Script. Ital.), together with the other contempor- 
ary chroniclers. As the notes on the text will show, 
Browning seems to have consulted them all. The Monk 
of Padua 3 the Chronicle of Laurentius, i the History of 
Maurisius 5 as well as Antonio Godi and the Life of San 
Bonifacio. 6 Another work which he consulted was the 
Vita di Ezzelino by Pietro Gerardo, 7 one of the earliest 
of the Italian sources. Browning also read various 
articles in the Biographie Universelle, and probably 
gathered from the article on Sordello the name of 
the archer " Elcorte," who in the poem is the reputed 
father of Sordello, for in that article it is stated that in 
one of the biographies of the Poets of Provence it is 

1 See note on Bk. iv. 1. 512. 

2 See also i. 188 ; iii. 93, 451 ; iv. 102. 

3 iv . 637. 4 iv. 59 ; vi. 729. 
6 iv. 225, 635, 682 ; vi. 702, 710. 6 iv. 488. 

• i. 1S8; v. 775. 



16 SORDELLO 

recorded that Sordello was " ne dans le Mantouan d'un 
pauvre chevalier nomme Elcort." 
► Besides all this, there lies behind Sordello a mass of 
miscellaneous knowledge on the Middle Ages which 
it would be almost impossible to locate. His reading 
for Paracelsus would account, no doubt, for some of the 
allusions, his studies in the classics for others, but 
there still remains a residuum which will puzzle readers 
for many a long day to come. 1 

(12) It is necessary in order to understand many of 
the allusions and much of the atmosphere of Sordello 
that the reader should be acquainted more or less with 
the political and social conditions of Lombardy during 
the period covered by the poem (1194-1260). For this 
purpose the Treaty of Constance concluded in 1183 a.d. 
between the Emperor Frederic I. (Barbarossa) and the 
cities of Lombardy forms the most convenient starting- 
point. For many years Frederic Barbarossa had waged 
bitter war against the cities of Lombardy under the 
headship of Milan, but eventually he was completely 
overthrown at the battle of Legnano, 1176 a.d. This 
victory assured peace, which was finally signed at 
Constance in 1183 a.d. The Treaty of Constance was 
the Magna Carta of the Lombard cities. It extended to 
all the cities of Italy the right to levy armies, to fortify 
and govern themselves and reduced the sovereignty 
of the Emperor to the recognition of his overlordship 
and the right to levy an annual contribution for Imperial 
purposes. The effect of their hard-won liberty was to 
alter in the next half century the whole social conditions 
of Northern Italy. 

Hitherto the country had been governed by Dukes, 
Marquises, and Counts, who by overawing the peasantry 
and keeping the cities in impotence, had ensured the 
predominance of the Imperial interests. But as soon 
as the cities became self-governing their strength and 
wealth increased by leaps and bounds. Their city walls 
kept them safe from marauding barons and their command 
of money and their military spirit ensured adequate 
defence in case of serious attack. The nobles were in 
consequence no longer able to oppose the cities with 
any chance of success except by elaborate combination or 
1 See Bk. ii. 296 ff. ; iii. 430 ; v. 125, are examples. 



SORDELLO 17 

where individual fiefs were so large as almost to resemble 
little kingdoms. The result was that many of the lesser 
nobility who had hitherto flourished by preying on 
travelling merchants and unarmed towns found them- 
selves compelled to enroll themselves as citizens or else 
anxious to do so from policy. For the cities soon 
became strong enough to sally out and avenge insults 
upon merchants by burning the castles of the culprits. 
Many other causes contributed to this union of foes. 
The cities needed good military leaders, and as their 
wealth increased and trade prospered their martial 
spirit declined, and it was found expedient to bring in 
the nobility to lead their armies, for they were by train- 
ing and inclination fighters and leaders. On the other 
hand, the gradual concentration of wealth in the cities 
impoverished the nobility and made an alliance with the 
citizens an end much to be desired. So by mutual con- 
sent they joined forces. The progress which should have 
resulted from this union of hitherto jarring elements 
was, however, quickly neutralized by political events, 
which ultimately resulted in a fresh and more disastrous 
cleavage under the familiar party name of Guelf and 
Ghibelline. 

(13) The origin of the famous quarrel which led to the 
Guelf-Ghibelline struggle lay in the religious reformation 
of which Pope Hildebrand (Pope Gregory VII.) was the 
moving spirit, and which took place at the close of the 
eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century, about 
a hundred years before the birth of Sordello and Ecelin. 
Hildebrand set himself to separate the civil and ecclesi- 
astical powers. With this end in view he denied the 
right of any layman to invest ecclesiastics with the 
temporalities of their sees. Hitherto, after consecra- 
tion, the lands attached to the Bishoprics and Abbacies 
had been handed over to the newly appointed dignitary 
by the Emperor or other over-lord by a form known as 
investiture with the ring and crozier. This right had 
been grossly abused, appointment being often a mere 
matter of bargaining between the parties as to the price 
to be paid. On the other hand, such investiture assured 
feudal loyalty, an important matter to the State, when 
the Church dignitaries owned large fiefs. The con- 
troversy was fought out with terrible bitterness, the 



18 SORDELLO 

Emperor being excommunicated and the Pope driven 
from Rome and dying in exile. The victory rested finally 
with the Church, whose power and influence was vastly 
increased thereby. Hildebrand set his face not only 
against lay-investiture, but also against the simony 
rampant in the Church and against the practice of 
marriage amongst the clergy, and the shadow of his stern 
personality falls across the poem, not only in the passage 
directly dealing with the quarrel about investitures 
in the fifth book, but also in the story of the ex-monk 
who relates the tale of Crescentius at the close of Bk. iv. 
(14) Shortly before his death Frederic Barbarossa 
married his only son Henry to Constance, the heiress 
of the two Sicilies, this latter kingdom comprising 
Sicily and the greater portion of Italy south of Rome. 
On the death of Barbarossa the prospect of the union 
of North and South Italy in the hands of the Emperor 
alarmed the Pope, whose position would, in case of war 
with the Empire, be hopeless. He began, therefore, to 
rally the forces of the Church, and to arouse among the 
cities of Lombardy a spirit of hostility to the Empire 
with the cry that the Church was in danger. Before, 
however, the position became critical, Henry VI. died, 
leaving one son, Frederic II., a child of four years old. 
Constance, dying a year later, left her child under the 
guardianship of the Pope. Thus for a time the almost 
inevitable outbreak between the Pope and Emperor was 
postponed. In the meantime, the Lombard communes 
had enough troubles of their own without taking up the 
cudgels on behalf of the Papacy. Freed from the neces- 
sity of union by any fear of an Imperial invasion, 
they broke out into wars and squabbles and mutual 
jealousies among themselves. Their newly acquired 
allies, the nobility, when once firmly established in the 
cities, began to display all the lawlessness which had 
characterized them as independent barons. Their 
palaces in the cities became fortresses, from which they 
often enough broke out to plunder and murder the peace- 
ful citizens. When not employed in ravaging some 
neighbouring city they engaged in broils within then- 
own. The position at last became so unbearable that 
the city councils adopted the idea of appointing a 
" Podesta "— that is, a noble selected from some other 



SORDELLO 19 

city, and given a good salary and full power on condition 
that he administered justice and kept order. He was 
appointed, as a rule, for a year, but could be re-elected at 
the close of each year's service ; he had to render an 
account to the city, and was liable to punishment. 
The Podesta was supposed to be free from any party 
bias, but after a time, when the Guelf-Ghibelline struggle 
was proceeding, he was generally found to be in sympathy 
with the ruling faction, and often enough was as keen a 
partisan as anyone else. 1 This resulted in the expulsion 
of many of the turbulent barons, who were, however, 
recalled after a time. Broadly speaking, the result was 
the gradual emergence of rival parties in all the cities, 
sometimes divided on political, sometimes on religious 
grounds, only waiting a battle-cry to split Lombardy 
into fragments. In many cases all the elements of 
the coming struggle were present through inter-family 
feuds, due to some one or other of the outrages or insults 
which greed or jealousy only too frequently caused. 

The names Guelf and Ghibelline are of German ex- 
traction, and are said to have first been used in the civil 
war waged in Germany from 1212 to 1218 between 
Frederic II., backed by the Pope, and his rival Otho IV. 
The victorious return of Frederic transplanted these 
terms to Italy, where, in the struggle that followed 
between Pope and Emperor, they were quickly adopted 
as the party names, the Guelfs becoming identified 
with the Church party, while the Imperialists became 
Ghibellines. 

(15) It is almost impossible to get any clear picture of 
the balance and divisions of parties within the Lombard 
cities. In each of them were, as a rule, two parties or 
predominant families in active rivalry ; thus Ferrara was 
divided between the Salinguerra and the Adelardi, 
and Vicenza between the Maltraversi and the Vivaresi. 
But matters were complicated by the emergence of the 
two houses of Romano and Este, who represented 
respectively Emperor and Pope. They were not con- 
fined to any single city, but had powerful influences 
in several. They both owned allegiance to the Emperor, 
while, at the same time, the house of Este was the 

1 The Podesta was originally a creation of Frederic Barbarossa 
after his conquest of Milan. 



20 S0RDELL0 

executive arm of the Church. Their policy was to throw 
their weight into the scales in any city where an oppor- 
tunity occurred and try to expel the other side for as 
long as possible. Thus the balance of power was con- 
stantly shifting, but, as a rule, Verona and Vicenza, and 
later Padua, were subject to Ecelin of Romano, while 
Ferrara and Mantua, and some other cities not men- 
tioned in Sordello, were controlled by the house of Este. 

(16) Browning has followed the historical events very 
closely, and in the main, accurately, though he has not 
hesitated to invent or to alter facts to suit his purpose 
and give the poem a definite plot. The action takes 
place round two historical incidents which may be 
related in some detail. The first is the expulsion of 
the Ecelin faction from Vicenza in 1194 a.d., and the 
second is the capture of Richard, Count Boniface, Este's 
friend and ally, by Salinguerra, at Ferrara, in 1224. 

Vicenza was divided between the Maltraversi, under 
Count Uguccione, and the Vivaresi, at whose head was 
Taurello Salinguerra. Behind these two factions lay 
the lords of Este and Romano, ready to make use of the 
slightest opening. In June 1194 a.d. it was necessary 
to select a Podesta, and as the two parties could not 
agree, they arranged to leave the choice to two nominees, 
one from either party. The Maltraversi delegated 
Pilio da Celsano and the Vivaresi, one Sulimano, a 
judge. Pilio, at the instance probably of Este, without 
consulting his colleagues, offered the post to Giacomo 
di Bernardi, a Bolognese, on the condition that, if elected, 
he would favour the Guelf-Este-Maltraversi party. The 
conditions having been accepted by Bernardi, Pilio 
nominated him to Sulimano and contrived his election. 
Bernardi, when fairly in the saddle, carried out his 
promise with 1 such unblushing thoroughness that the 
Vivaresi soon took up arms. Ecelin was called upon, but 
the Este faction were first in the field, and the whole 
Ecelin- Vivaresi party were expelled from the city. 
Browning, for the purposes of the poem, places Ecelin's 
wife, Adelaide, and her infant son, Ecelin, as well as 
Retrude, the wife of Salinguerra, and their child, Sor- 
dello, all in Vicenza at the time, though this is un- 
historical. Ecelin, however, was born of Adelaide this 
very year, probably at Bassano. 



SORDELLO 21 

Thirty years elapse before the second event takes place, 
the capture at Ferrara of Richard, Count Boniface, by 
Taurello Salinguerra. The preliminary events, of which 
Browning gives a brief summary, may be mentioned here. 
In 1221, Azzo VII. took the lead of the Guelf party on 
the death of his elder brother, Aldrobrandino. He was 
the younger son of the Azzo, who expelled Salinguerra 
from Vicenza in 1194. He resided chiefly at Ferrara, 
where Salinguerra was his rival. In the month of August 
he attacked the Ghibelline faction, who at the moment 
were in the ascendant in the city, and expelled them, 
burning the Salinguerra palace. Taurello returned to the 
attack the following year, and in his turn expelled 
Azzo. Azzo promptly collected another army, and in 
due course appeared before Ferrara with all that was 
necessary to recapture the city either by assault or siege. 
Taurello resorted to trickery and invited Azzo to enter 
the city and come to terms peaceably. Azzo fell into 
the trap, and, accompanied by one hundred nobles, 
advanced into Ferrara. Taurello, giving as a reason 
that they had committed excesses and broken faith, 
attacked them. Azzo and some of his lords forced their 
way out in safety, but many were slain, including 
Tisolino da Camposampiero, one of the Azzo's dearest 
friends. In revenge for this treachery and the death 
of Tisolino, Azzo made great efforts to collect an over- 
whelming force for a fresh siege. For this purpose he 
called to his aid his friend Count Richard of San Boni- 
facio, and together they once more advanced upon 
Ferrara. Salinguerra opened negotiations with Count 
Richard, and so astute was his diplomacy that he in- 
duced him to fall into the same trap as he had laid for 
Azzo the previous year. Richard entered Ferrara 
with a small body of cavalry and was promptly secured. 
This was in the year 1224. In the poem the trick 
played upon Azzo is omitted, and mention is made only 
of the capture of Richard. It is truly astonishing that 
in an age of deceit so transparent a trick should be 
played successfully in the same place in consecutive 
years. Taurello Salinguerra must have well deserved 
the description of "sapiens et astutus" which Rolandino 
gives him. Azzo in disgust threw up the siege and 
vented his wrath upon Taurello's castle of Fratta. The 



22 SORDELLO 

Lombard League now intervened, and Richard was 
released the next year. 

(17) The death of Adelaide and the retirement of 
Ecelin into a monastery at Oliero took place while these 
events were in progress. Browning makes Ecelin's 
retirement the result of his wife's death, which is at least 
natural if there is no direct evidence to support it. 
Oliero, the place to which he retired, is a village about 
six miles above Bassano, on the river Brenta, and in the 
territory of Vicenza. Here Ecelin had built a small 
monastery, which, in 1221 a.d., he made over to the 
neighbouring Benedictine monastery of Campese, a 
previous foundation of his own family. The deed 
stipulates that the prior of Campese shall maintain 
at Oliero four monks, of whom two are to be in orders. 
During his life Ecelin was to have the entire administra- 
tion of the church and convent " in temporalibus." 
This deed fixes the true place and date of his 
retirement. 1 

It is not necessary to suppose that Ecelin took the 
monastic vow, or, as Browning intimates, shut himself 
off entirely from the world upon his entrance into Oliero. 
There is evidence that on more than one occasion he 
came out to try and compose the quarrels of his sons, and 
'he certainly kept in touch with outside events by means 
of letters. An interesting example is preserved by 
Rolandino, dated 1228 a.d., in which he strongly advises 
his sons to make peace with the Paduans, and quotes 
certain verses of their mother Adelaide, who " knew the 
courses of the stars and the judgments of the planets " 
foretelling the fate of the family — 

" En quia fata parant lacrimosos pandere casus 
Gentem Marchixiam fratres abolere potentes 
Viderit Axanum, concludent castra Zenonis " ; 

a prediction which had a literal fulfilment, for Browning 
only records the historical facts when he tells us that it 
was — 

1 Verci, vol. i. p. 145. " All' anno 1221 sotto il giorno 
vigeslmo secondo de novembre, abbiamo un instrumento di 
convenzione fra Ecelino e i monaci di Campese. . . . Ecco 
dunque fissato il tempo di questo suo ritiro, eccone stabilito 
il luogo." 



SORDELLO 23 

" By San Zenon where Alberic in turn 
saw his exasperated captors burn 
seven children and their mother : then regaled 
so far, tied on to a wild horse, was trailed 
To death through raunce and bramble-bush 1 " 

Retirement of this kind was by no means unusual, for 
in those days many a life of brawl and battle was ended 
within the monastery walls, where alone could be offered 
a semblance of peace in a turbulent and superstitious 
age, whose two predominant characteristics might be 
summed up in the words, " Without were fightings, within 
were fears." 

(18) With regard to the other historical characters 
and incidents in the poem, Browning has, as a rule, 
stuck close to his authorities. The portraits of Salin- 
guerra, Adelaide and Palma are, of course, purely im- 
aginative, but the main facts are historically correct. 
In drawing the picture of Palma, Browning has combined 
facts relating to two of Ecelin's daughters, Palma and 
Cunizza. In making her the sole child of Agnes Este, 
he has adopted Verci's conclusion. All that is known 
is that Agnes died in childbirth, and that a certain 
" Palma, daughter of Ecelin," was married to one 
Valpertino da Cavaso. Another daughter, "Palma 
Novella," Adelaide's eldest child, married Alberto da 
Baone. Verci comes to the conclusion that the wife of 
Valpertino was the child of Agnes Este. This result is 
based partly on the evidence of dates and partly on 
the fact that the use of the name " Novella " implies 
the existence of another Palma in the same family. 
Cunizza, the youngest child, was married to Richard 
of San Bonifacio, but deserted him for Sordello, the 
Troubadour, and had subsequently two or three more 
husbands, ending a remarkable career with a life of piety 
and good works, for which Dante places her in Paradise. 
Thus Browning's story combines the two sets of facts. 
Most of the events recorded are correct. The death of 
Ecelin and Alberic, their marriages, the fate of Salin- 
guerra, the various exploits in which they took part 
are all historical. The only character which is entirely 
imaginative and unhistorical is Sordello himself. The 
truth concerning the historical Sordello is lost in the 
obscurity of Romance. A good many of his songs 



24 SORDELLO 

have survived. He is said to have been one of the 
greatest of Troubadours as well as a knight-errant of 
marvellous powers. He either married or ran away with 
Cunizza, the daughter of Ecelin, and had a variety of 
adventures in love and war. Dante places him amongst 
those who died a violent death, but there is no further 
evidence on the point. His influence on Browning's 
conception is of the slightest, and such evidence as there 
is throws no light on the poem. 

It may be well here to summarize succinctly the 
historical and unhistorical elements. Broadly speaking, 
the events and characters mentioned are all historical, 
while the character drawing is imaginative. To this 
there is one important exception. Sordello himself is 
entirely Browning's own creation, and has nothing in 
common either with the Sordello of Dante or of history. 
Further, making him the son of Salinguerra, upon which 
the whole plot turns, is a pure invention and utterly 
unhistorical. Eglamor and Naddo are likewise the 
poet's own inventions. Palma, the daughter of Ecelin 
and Agnes Este, was in all probability an historical person, 
but her relations with Sordello are imaginative. With 
regard to the character drawing, Browning made the 
most of the verdict of history. The popular conception 
of Adelaide was that of a witch and her attachment 
to the science of astrology frequently mentioned, and 
the poet has evolved his character upon these lines. 
" Sapiens et astutus " is the common estimate of Salin- 
guerra, of which Browning has made the most. In 
the pictures which he gives us of Ecelin the Monk and 
his two sons there is probably a good deal of exaggera- 
tion. It was not until much later in life that the sons 
became the awful tyrants whose names have become 
bywords for cruelty, and Verci's estimate of the Monk 
is by no means unfavourable. The events recorded in 
the poem are historical ; slips occur here and there, but 
on the whole, as the notes will show, they are astonish- 
ingly accurate. Taken as a whole the poem is a tribute 
to the thoroughness of Browning's method, the depth 
of his reading, and his wonderful grasp of the time both 
in its wider issues and in its details. 

(19) The oft-quoted sentence in Browning's intro- 
duction to the 1863 edition, that the stress of the poem 



SORDELLO 25 

lay " on the incidents in the development of a soul," 
gives us the clue to the real purport of Sordello. The 
reader must be prepared to accept this statement as a 
fact, and to understand that the real action in the poem 
is psychological, and that it is in this that the interest 
must be found, and not, as is customary, in the historical 
incident, which in this case is subsidiary. We have to 
follow the characters from the inside : it is not what they 
• do, but what they think, that is important. 

In this respect Sordello is not essentially peculiar 
among the poet's works, for in Browning, action {i.e. 
deeds), as we normally use the word, is mainly interest- 
ing as a revelation of character or as an indication of 
some peculiar or unusual mental state. It is how a 
particular character will face some particular problem 
which fascinates Browning, and in portraying it he gives 
us not so much what the man does as the welter of 
motives, reasons, and impulses which originate or deter- 
mine his conduct. That Browning is not hopelessly 
dull and unreadable is due not only to his mastery of 
psychological analysis, but also to his wonderful power 
in giving us the' setting of his problem with the utmost 
brilliancy of colouring combined with the very minimum 
of strokes. Browning's mind was essentially analytic. 
He was a born anatomist. He began his career as a 
poet with Pauline, a piece of ruthless self-dissection, 
of which John Stuart Mill said : " The writer seems to me 
to be possessed of a more morbid and intense self-con- 
sciousness than I ever knew in any sane human being," 
and this tendency lasted throughout his life. But with 
this passion for analysis he combined in early life a keen 
desire for synthesis, he pulled to pieces only that he might 
know how to put together again. There is a passage 
in Pauline where this is plainly indicated. 

" 'Twas in my plan to look on real life 
The life all new to me ; my theories 
were firm, so them I left, to look and learn 
mankind, its cares, hopes, fears, its woes and joys ; 
And, as I pondered on their ways, I sought 
How best life's end might be attained — an end 
comprising every joy." 

It is this determination to find " how best life's end 
rnight be attained— an end comprising every joy " that 



26 SORDELLO 

gives us the clue to the creation not only of Sordello, but 
also of Aprile and Paracelsus. Later the craving for 
the delineation of a perfect yet real man passed away, 
or, to be more exact, disintegrated, and the poet did 
some of his finest work in the creation of that gallery 
of separate types which began with the publication of 
Men and Women in 1855. 

(20) It is not a little remarkable that in Pauline, 
which was published when Browning was one-and-twenty, 
we find the elements of the poet's mature philosophy 
quite plainly indicated. Power, knowledge, and Love, 
these are Browning's trinity of fundamentals from which 
he never departed. All are present in embryo in Pauline r 
Paracelsus is a study of knowledge and Love in contrast ; 
while Sordello is from one point of view a study of the 
negative side of the same problem — that is, of a character, 
to which these vital influences have been denied. In 
Paracelsus, his first constructive effort, Browning gives 
us the pursuit of knowledge and Love as life ideals 
typified respectively in Paracelsus and Aprile. Both fail : 
Paracelsus, because he mistakes knowledge for the end, 
whereas it is only the means ; Aprile, because, while his 
instinct for Love is true, he rejects knowledge, the in- 
dispensable means. The truth is foreshadowed in the 
passage where Paracelsus exclaims — 

" Are we not halves of one dissevered world ? " 

(21) Two years later, when Browning began to write 
Sordello, he took a different line. The problem which 
the life and character of Sordello brings before us is, 
what would be the result of putting into the world a 
being gifted with the highest potentialities, but deprived 
of all the usual channels of self-development and denied 
those normal forces which guide, direct, and stimulate 
the human mind in its most plastic and receptive stage ? 
So to test this Browning created Sordello, a poet and a 
genius with the highest natural gifts of mind, but de- 
prived of all the essentials of normal development. He 
is ignorant, motherless, lonely, physically weak, and in 
an obscure position. He struggles up to manhood 
without knowledge of the world or its ways, selfish 
and self-centred, without a moral sense, yet with an 
intense natural feeling for beauty in all its forms and a 



SORDELLO 27 

natural disposition at once lovable and loving. Then 
suddenly on the strength of a chance achievement he 
finds himself famous and is thrown into the life of 
Mantua, in the capacity of a Troubadour. For ten years 
he remains there, alternately worshipped and scoffed 
at, until at last, lonely, embittered and disappointed, 
he flies back to the old home at Goito. 

(22) To understand Sordello's failure we must appre- 
ciate something of his own point of view. The result 
of his lonely, self-centred childhood, in which physical 
weakness had cut off the ordinary outlets of youthful 
energy, had been to stimulate his inventive faculties 
until they gave him a world of his own in which as king 
he was undisputed master. He naturally enough con- 
ceived of the outside world as being the exact counterpart 
of his mental one, and firmly expected that when the time 
came he would be the same prominent figure among real 
men and women as he was among those of his own 
creation. He anticipated the same implicit obedience to 
his will, the same boundless admiration of his talents, 
the same absence of criticism and complaisant ignoring 
of mistakes and failures. It was very childish perhaps, 
but natural. The link in the chain of success which he 
completely overlooked was the element of opposition. 
But strong will implies a good deal more than the mere 
reiteration of a determination ; it means also the faculty 
of removing difficulties and overcoming obstacles. It 
must be executive as well as initiative. Sordello ignored 
the possibility of opposition and omitted in consequence 
any provision for enforcing his will if its mere enuncia- 
tion failed. He conceived no more difficulty in achieving 
his purposes with the outside world than in his own, 
forgetting that no one of his inner world had ever yet 
been conceived with a will in direct opposition to his 
own, whereas every real man has a will which must 
be either directed or coerced before even elementary 
obedience is forthcoming. The result of contact with 
the world was thus a foregone conclusion. So long as 
Sordello displayed his art along the familiar lines, singing 
stories and romances, historical or imaginative, admira- 
tion was boundless. But as soon as he became didactic 
and sought to " raise the people " he found himself faced 
by ridicule, indifference, or active opposition. He had 



28 SORDELLO 

as yet none of the compelling force of character, such as 
a St Bernard or a Savonarola possessed, nor had he an 
executive to enforce compliance such as Church and State 
had at their disposal, and the inevitable result was to 
disgust or alienate the se who, he fondly imagined, would 
worship at his feet. This was rendered doubly bitter 
because the popular attitude towards his art reacted upon 
their estimate of Sordello himself, and his pride and self- 
esteem suffered a rude shock. His demand that they 
should serve and he should rule, in virtue of his will, 
failed, because his greatness was a mere assertion he 
could not prove. 

(23) Up to this point Sordello's life has been purely 
egotistic. His aim has been " the life comprising every 
joy " ; his work as Troubadour was directed to this end, 
the people being the machine by which his will was to 
be carried out, and their betterment a mere by-product 
evolved in the process of his own consummation. But 
fate now brought him to Ferrara and forced upon him 
what he had never realized before, the idea of service. 
It was here in the corpse-strewn streets of Ferrara that 
the appeal of suffering humanity came to him and deter- 
mined his life's task. It was not so much their actual 
physical misery, though that was appalling enough, as 
their acquiescence in their lot, that aroused Sordello. 
It was the " argumentum e silentio," the fact that they 
took all their sufferings for granted, without protest 
or complaint, which gave birth in Sordello to a mighty 
pity. They were dumb, " inarticulate," to use the ex- 
pressive word of Carlyle's, and the pride and splendour 
of their chiefs only threw it all the clearer into relief. 
Then, like a flash, it came to him : this was his work, 
he must be the people's spokesman. 

From this point Sordello has ceased to be the egotist 
and has turned altruist. It is well to lay some stress 
on this point. Sordello has come to himself. In his 
own words — 

" He felt 
An error, an exceeding error melt " 

— and realized to the full his past life's "outrageous 
vanity." From this onward, though with sad relapses, the 
centre of significance in his mental orbit was shifted from 



SORDELLO 29 

the claims of self to those of others. To us the work done 
may seem childish (for all he achieved was a long speech 
before Salinguerra) and his ideal utterly impracticable, 
but the point is that he was trying, that blindly, maybe 
even futilely, he was yet working for others. Sordello 
now knows what his work is, but the further question at 
once arises how the work is to be done and what is the 
first step to take. To throw in his lot with either Guelf 
or Ghibelline would be to narrow his scope and reduce 
his ideal to the level of ordinary people. He is no 
partisan. It is humanity he must help, not a mere 
section. His work must coincide with his sympathies, 
which are universal. 

A short examination of Guelf and Ghibelline ideals 
as practised, shows that both are equally selfish and 
impossible, but in theory the Guelfs have the advantage. 
The Papal claim is universal, embracing all mankind. 
It is also spiritual. These are two qualifications which 
appeal strongly to Sordello, but the difficulty will be to 
separate the spiritual from the worldly. The dynastic 
and material aspect of the Church is as alien to Sordello's. 
soul as the Ghibelline ideal. 

Is there no " tertium quid " ? This Sordello finds 
at last in the idea of a revival of consular Rome- 
spiritual but not theological, consular but not dynastic. 
A kind of new Jerusalem descending out of heaven of 
which he is to be the deus ex machina. Fired at last 
with hope, and realising that the secular arm must be 
invoked to aid him, he returns to Salinguerra to win him 
to his side. The result of his effort, made with all the 
power and conviction of the poet, but utterly lost on the 
unimaginative man of action, is — Taurello's offer of the 
leadership of the Ghibelline party. It is a bribe, a 
gigantic bribe. 

(24) In the struggle which follows the forces of 
Sordello's soul are ranged into two contending factions. 
On the one side stand the people, on the other stands 
self. It is unselfishness versus selfishness, altruism 
against egotism, the higher against the lower. All that 
is best in him cries out to resist the bribe. His ideals, 
his principles are all ranged against Salinguerra's offer. 
But the forces on the other side are strong. There is 
the attraction of power, power immediate and immense. 



30 S0RDELL0 

There is his love of Palma, there is the subtle argument 
that acceptance of the Ghibelline leadership will offer 
him just the scope he needs for the realization of his 
ideals. And through all runs the passionate cry of his 
starved and disappointed soul for " one crowded hour 
of glorious life." Sordello dies in the struggle, but not 
before he has trampled the badge beneath his foot, 
showing thereby that the better part was chosen at the 
last. 

(25) What verdict are we to pass upon Sordello ? 
Browning himself has passed none, though it would be 
easy to pick out isolated sentences in the poem which 
seem to give judgment both for and against. He has 
left us to form our own judgment. 

" And therefore have I moulded, made anew 
A Man, and give him to be turned and tried 
Be angry with or pleased at." 

Thus in any attempted estimate our verdict will be 
determined by personal predilections. The simplest, 
but the shallowest, judgmentj is that Sordello is a failure 
because he " did " nothing. He made no money, won 
no battles, made no laws. He set out with great ideas, 
and died before they matured into actions. This is 
the standpoint of the practical man or woman whose 
whole estimate of success lies in " doing things," in 
" action." Most of us worship results which can be 
seen and tabulated and make a scale of values accord- 
ingly. It is Salinguerra whom we admire, one of those — 

" Who seeing just as little as you please 
yet turn that little to account — engage 
with, do not gaze at, carry on a stage 
the work o' the world." 

Sordello certainly fails when regarded from this stand- 
point. But to condemn Sordello wholly even upon 
these grounds is to misapprehend his character as drawn 
by Browning and also to misinterpret the poet's own idea 
of what results from human efforts really are. With 
Browning, to think is to do. Ideas are latent facts which, 
when once conceived, may be delayed but cannot be 
prevented from ultimately taking their place as visible 
realities in the scheme of things. 

Ordinary people are like small retail tradesmen, who 



SORDELLO 31 

borrow their mental stock-in-trade from the manufacturer 
and live on the small profit made on their sale. But 
Sordello was a real thinker, who borrowed nothing. He 
differed fundamentally from Naddo and his confreres, who 
stand for the ordinary life of educated, thinking men, in 
the fact that whereas they were constantly drawing conclu- 
sions from definite, accepted, but unexamined premisses, 
Sordello had as yet no premisses at all, and therefore no 
conclusions either. He was, in short, an original 
mind, to whom the accepted compromises and con- 
ventions of ordinary social thought made no appeal. 
Acceptance prior to investigation was no part of his 
creed, he was rather one who only accepted and under- 
stood as Truth that which he proved for himself. He was 
mentally of the type of such men as Abelard and 
Paracelsus, or Browning's Pietro of Abano. Men 
before their age, and, in consequence, misunderstood and 
unappreciated. 

Now Browning tells us in Sordello's last speech that 
these are the men who lay the foundations for human pro- 
gress. Though they seem to fail and achieve nothing, 
long after they are dead, perhaps, a later generation 
germinates the seed they sowed. In the world of thought 
nothing is lost any more than in the world of nature. 
It may be dormant and be lost to sight, but it is only 
awaiting its proper moment to burst forth into renewed 
activity. It was in advancing social ideas far in advance 
of his age, in championing the cause of the people in the 
midst of feudalism, that Sordello's greatness and success 
lay. Though from man's ordinary standpoint of what 
success is, Sordello's measure of achievement is a negli- 
gible quantity, his was a failure from which the world 
ultimately gained rather than lost. 

The fact should not be lost sight of that Browning 
makes Sordello anxious and willing to serve the people, 
but it is the question of How so to do that is his stumbling- 
block. It is here that his want of education is the true 
cause of failure. It is education which teaches us how 
to serve ; every one is aware of the trouble caused by 
ignorant would-be helpers, and Sordello was too wise 
to fling himself blindly into a task without knowing how 
to carry it through with some chance of success. His 
instinct was true, for the time was not yet when even 



32 SORDELLO 

the preliminary steps towards that mighty equilibrium 
were due to be established. Sordello was not strong 
enough to combat the forces of the age in which he lived, 
nor experienced enough to know just what should be 
done to take the next step forward. Though in one sense 
the product of his age, in another he was far in advance 
of his time, and the two sides clashed within him. Some 
allowance must be made for each of these forces. His 
amazing egotism and self-confidence was characteristic 
of his time and gifts. " Love and vanity amongst the 
troubadours," says Sismondi, " seems by turns to assume 
such an empire over the feelings as almost to shake the 
reason." His Utopian idea of a Roman republic 
governing the world based on the equality of all men 
was ridiculous in the height of Feudalism. He looked 
before and after and pined for what was not. But 
Browning would have us feel nevertheless that his 
instinct was true, even though it was a nineteenth century 
ideal clad in the garments of a bygone age. 

The other cause of failure not less potent than his 
ignorance was his want of balance. He was spiritually 
and aesthetically over-developed. His intuitive percep- 
tion of the meaning of things was so intense that judg- 
ment and action were alike paralysed. Tennyson's 
" flower in the crannied wall " was an open book to 
Sordello, but his very knowledge struck him dumb. 

" Broke 
Morning o'er earth, he yearned for all it woke — 
From the Volcano's vapour-flag winds hoist 
Black o'er the spread of sea — down to the moist 
Dale's silken barley-spikes sullied with rain 
Swayed earthwards, heavily to rise again — 
The Small, a sphere as perfect as the Great 
To the Soul's absoluteness." 

In this he reminds us more of Browning's portrait 
of Lazarus in An Epistle than anything else, one of whom 
it may be said — 

" Heaven opened to a soul while yet on earth 
Earth forced on a soul's use while seeing Heaven." 

This intense sense of spiritual significance in all things 
must of necessity react adversely upon his possibilities 
as a man of action. He shrank instinctively from the 



SORDELLO 33 

sordidness and brutality of political activity and all the 
mean details of the " vulgar, vast, unobvious work " 
that was inevitable to the social reformer. There was 
only one thing that could give him strength to face it, 
and that was the discovery of a higher Synthesis than 
his mind had yet perceived, so pure and lofty as to 
sanctify the meanness of life and hallow the drudgery 
inevitably entailed. It is here that we may perhaps 
indicate the religious teaching in the poem which 
Browning has expressed only in the dimmest possible 
manner, save in one beautiful passage which must be 
quoted — 

SORDELLO. 

" Of a Power above you still 
Which, utterly incomprehensible, 
Is out of rivalry, which thus you can 
Love, tho' unloving all conceived by Man — 
What need ! And of — none the minutest duct 
To that out-Nature, nought that would instruct 
And so let rivalry begin to live — 
But of a Power its representative 
Who, being for authority the same, 
Communication different, should claim 
A course the first chose and this last revealed — 
This Human clear, as that Divine concealed — 
What utter need ! " 

What Sordello needed was the teaching of the New 
Testament. In the Christian ideal of service he might 
have found that " moon " which would have drawn the 
full forces of his soul into a single channel and given to 
him the sense of proportion which above all else he 
needed. Nothing else would have satisfied him, and 
this he was denied. He had outgrown his principles. 
He could not co-ordinate his facts. His inductive basis 
was too wide. The usual fallacy of generalizing from an 
insufficient amount of data, so conspicuous with the 
Naddos of life, was in Sordello 's case reversed. He died 
while still looking for that higher synthesis in which the 
appalling contradictions of life might be reconciled, 
for he could find no viewpoint far enough from the 
turmoil of life to give a true perspective to the picture 
as a whole. 

(26) Before we leave this aspect of the poem, we must 
notice the strong autobiographical element which is 



34 SORDELLO 

conspicuous in the thought throughout, but notably 
in the long digression which forms the last half of Bk. iii. 
While the atmosphere and colouring of Sordello is wonder- 
fully mediaeval, Browning has used Sordello to put for- 
ward his own views as to the purpose and right use of 
the poetic gift. These appear voiced in his own person 
in the digression and through Sordello in the last book. 

The peculiar endowment of the poet, says Browning, 
is the power to make other people see what he sees him- 
self. It is therefore vitally necessary that he should 
deal with what is most important for man to realize and 
think about. It is a prostitution of his art to make men 
think about mere trivialities, " the mugwort that con- 
ceals a dewdrop safe," 1 and sonnets on " the earliest 
ass that spoke." 

Men turn to him for inspiration, and he holds in his 
hands to do good or evil. And the first claim of all 
is that of suffering humanity. The problem of evil 
and the question of its alleviation, dealt with from the 
\Jiighest standpoint, is his task. Experience changed 
Browning's own outlook, and his early optimism was 
dissipated by facts, ugly but incontestable. Yet he holds 
no man is past hope and that everyone keeps his own con- 
ceit of truth. Sin is more due to mutual misunderstand- 
ing than inherent wickedness, and the poet's work is to 
keep the truth before the world, leaving it to the practical 
men to find ways and means to deal with the concrete 
problem. When these two work together with mutual 
understanding, when high thinking and wise applica- 
tion join together their forces, then will real work for man 
be done. 

" In short 
When at some future no-time a brave band 
sees, using what it sees, then shake my hand 
In heaven, my brother ! " 

Thus was Sordello right in his claim to be as poet 
" earth's essential king " ; where he failed was in trying 

1 K. M. Loudon, in his commentary on Sordello, has this note 
on these words : "I do not know what this means, except, 
perhaps, that even a weed has its treasure. Even the worst 
man has his good point." This is a good example of unsympa- 
thetic criticism and complete inability to realize Browning's 
sense of humour. Browning has suffered much for being taken 
too seriously and not being permitted the most harmless of jokes. 



SORDELLO 35 

to be both thinker and organizer, in failing to recognize 
that in this world there are limits to human power, and 
that each must " fit to the finite his infinity." To life 
here are attached conditions which must be respected. 
Thus Sordello, thrusting too much Soul on Body, pressing 
into Time Eternity's concern, broke beneath the strain. 

" and the poor body soon 
Sinks under what was meant a wondrous boon 
Leaving its bright accomplice all aghast." 



The text of this edition is that of the 17-volume 
edition, which is substantially identical with that of 
the first collected edition of 1863, published in three 
volumes. The text has been collated with that of the 
first edition (1840) and the variations and additions 
noted at the foot of the text. The reader will prob- 
ably notice the number of references made to Johnson's 
Dictionary, the reason of which is that Browning made 
a close study of that work when he first determined to 
adopt poetry as his profession in life. 

If discrepancies are found between the General 
Introduction and those which preface each book, it is 
to be remembered that these latter tell the story simply 
as it appears in the poem, without any regard to the 
historicity of the facts, while in the General Introduc- 
tion an attempt has been made to put the story as 
told by Browning into relation with the actual historical 
events. 



SORDELLO 
BOOK I 



INTRODUCTION 

§ i. The poem opens with an introduction, in which 
Browning explains his choice of the narrative rather than 
the dramatic form, and calls up an imaginary audience 
to listen ; after a prolongation in the form of an apos- 
trophe on Shelley, he plunges at once into the story. 
The opening scene is the market square at Verona, by 
night. News has just arrived of the capture of Verona's 
Lord, Count Richard of St Boniface (in league with 
Azzo of Este) by Taurello Salinguerra at Ferrara. 
Immediate succour from Verona as one of the cities in 
the Lombard League is at once volunteered. To under- 
stand how these events came about, we must realize 
something of the political situation which lies behind 
the poem. 

§ 2. Italy was at this time the seat of a bitter rivalry 
between Pope and Emperor. Every town and city 
throughout the land was divided into two factions — 
" Guelfs," the supporters of the Pope, and " Ghibel- 
lines," the upholders of the Emperor. In Frederick II., 
the Emperor who was reigning when Sordello begins, there 
had been some hope of a reconciliation. As a child the 
Pope (Innocent III.) had been his guardian, and when 
he came of age he had solemnly taken the cross and 
promised to lead a crusade. 1 

§ 3. The mainstay of the Papal power was the noble 
house of Este, at this time under the headship of 
Azzo VII., one of the oldest of the Italian families who 

1 This promise, however, he delayed, and was promptly ex- 
communicated. It was this failure which led the Pope to form 
the Lombard League " of fifteen cities that affect the Pope," 
dreading a second Barbarossa in Frederick II. (seeBk. i. 194-205). 
Frederick, who accomplished his Crusade later and regained 
Jerusalem by treaty, was again excommunicated, because, 
instead of exterminating the infidels he made a treaty with 

them. 

39 



40 SORDELLO 

traced back their descent to consular Rome. The interests 
of the Imperial party lay in the hands of the house of 
Romano, a family translated from Swabia, a century 
before, by the Emperor, and which had risen through a 
series of able and unscrupulous chiefs to be the greatest 
Imperial power in northern Italy. Its chief at this 
time was Ecelin III. This Ecelin had had numerous 
wives, among others Agnes of the house of Este, who had 
died, leaving him a daughter, who, under the name of 
Palma, is the heroine of the poem. His latest wife was 
Adelaide, alluded to as " the Tuscan." 

§ 4. When the poem opens, the affairs of the house 
of Romano, and incidentally those of the whole Imperial 
party, have just been thrown into confusion by the death 
of Adelaide, and the consequent sudden entrance of 
Ecelin III. into a monastery at Oliero, near Bassano. 1 
The Ghibelline faction was thus without a head, and the 
question was, Who was it to be? The natural leader 
was his son Ecelin IV., who, however, was not fit for 
the task, and the only man capable of dealing with 
the situation was Taurello Salinguerra, Ecelin's right- 
hand man, half -general, half-politician, hitherto the 
devoted servant of the house of Romano. At the 
moment of this double catastrophe Taurello was at 
Naples, preparing to embark with the Emperor on his 
long-delayed crusade. With characteristic promptitude 
he returns headlong to Vicenza, interviews Ecelin in 
his monastery, urging him to return to the world, but 
in vain. Then he conveys Palma to Mantua, where he 
explains to her the situation. The position is critical. 
Frederick has suddenly renounced his intention to lead 
the crusade, and has been excommunicated. The 
Imperial interests in Italy are in great danger, and a 
determined attack on the house of Romano by the Este 
faction at this juncture would spell disaster. To 
temporize is a necessity. He therefore proposes to 
Palma that she should allow herself to be formally 
betrothed to Richard, Count Boniface, Este's chief 
ally, which would ensure at least a breathing space 
until something can be contrived to strengthen the 
Imperial position. To this Palma consents, and 

1 See Bk. iii. 234-248. 



SORDELLO 41 

they are formally betrothed by Taurello himself at 
Padua. 

This alliance, which had long been talked of, was by 
no means taken seriously either by Palma or Taurello, 
but was regarded simply as a political expedient to be 
dissolved the instant the atmosphere cleared. For 
Palma, as a matter of fact, was not only in love at the 
time with Sordello, but was in possession of the secret 
of his birth, that he was, in fact, Taurello's own son, the 
significance of which fact she fully understood. Taurello 
was equally opposed to the match, but on very different 
grounds ; in the first place, hatred of the house of Este 
was the one dominating passion of his life, and in the 
second place, such a union implied the breaking up 
of the possessions of the house of Romano by the re- 
storation as dowry of the lands which had previously 
come to Ecelin through his alliance with Agnes Este, 
which Taurello could by no means bring himself to 
countenance. 

§ 5. Taurello's object was to instigate a premature 
indiscretion on the part of the Guelf party which would 
enable him to charge Este and Count Boniface with such 
a breach of faith as would justify a repudiation of the 
betrothal, and at the same time give him an opportunity 
of reversing the balance of parties. 1 The Guelf rising 
for which he hoped took place at Ferrara. This was 
one of the cities where the parties were about equal in 
strength ; Taurello's own firm hand had been necessary 
to keep the turbulent spirits in check, and he rightly 
judged that his retirement would herald an explosion. 
It was with this in his mind that he arranged for Palma's 
betrothal to take place at Padua, and on that very day, 
with the connivance of Azzo, the Guelfs rose at Ferrara. 

" The pair of goodly palaces are burned 
The gardens ravaged, and your Guelf is drunk 
A week with joy." 

Taurello hurries back, stamps out the insurrection in 
blood, drives Azzo from the city, and rules alone once 
more. The trouble, however, is not yet over. As 
Taurello had calculated, the temptation was too much 
for Count Boniface; instead of proceeding with his 

1 Bk. iii. 502. 



42 SORDELLO 

train to Verona for the completion of his betrothal, as 
had been arranged, he hurries off to join Azzo, who, 
having collected fresh forces, was proceeding to besiege 
the victorious Salinguerra in Ferrara. Taurello calls a 
parley and suggests peace, inviting them to enter Ferrara 
and arrange terms. Richard, 

" Light-hearted as a plunging star," 

falls into the trap, enters Ferrara with only fifty followers, 
and is promptly secured and held as hostage. 

Thus was the temporary depression of the balance 
restored and Romano once more in the ascendant. 
Envoys were despatched to Verona to apprise Palma 
and the people of the changed aspect of affairs. 

§ 6. Considering the prominence in the poem of 
Taurello Salinguerra, it may be well to give here a 
summary of his history. The family of Salinguerra 
came originally from Mantua, but of more recent years 
they had disputed the supremacy of Ferrara with the 
Adelardi. The last of the Adelardi was old Marchesalla, 
who left an only daughter, Linguetta. An alliance 
between young Salinguerra and Linguetta was mooted, 
but the plan was ruined by a sudden raid of the 
Ravennese Guelfs under Count Boniface (the father 
of our Richard), who at the instigation of Azzo (the 
father of our Azzo) carried off Linguetta. The towns- 
people professed indignation, but finding who they had 
to deal with, their discretion got the better part of their 
valour, and they gave way. Salinguerra was decoyed 
out of Ferrara, under the pretence of hawking, but 
unexpectedly returned to meet the marriage procession 
of Este and his bride. Taurello never forgave Este, and 
from this time the destruction of his house, root and 
branch, was the one passion of his life. Salinguerra 
now joined the court of Henry in Sicily, where he wedded 
Retrude, a relative of the Emperor. 

He then returned with tokens from the Kaiser to 
Mantua, dislodged Azzo from the Salinguerra palace 
at Ferrara, and crushed the Guelf power in both cities. 
At this point he allied himself to the rising house of 
Romano, and together they endeavoured to undermine 
the Guelf power in Vicenza; they were, however, 
detected and driven from the city by Azzo and Boniface. 



SORDELLO 43 

It was in this expulsion that the events occurred which 
form the plot of Sordello. The city was in the course 
of the fighting set on fire, and Adelaide and the child 
Ecelin, together with Retrude and the infant Sordello, 
were only rescued by Salinguerra's superhuman efforts. 
Retrude died of the shock, and Adelaide concealed the 
fact of Sordello's survival for her own ends, giving out 
that Retrude and her child were burnt and that the second 
infant saved was the child of the archer Elcorte, who, 
in saving her (Adelaide's) life, had given up his own. It 
was the rescue of his wife and child that caused Ecelin 
to utter the vow fulfilled to the world's astonishment 
thirty years later to bestow " his life on God, his getting, 
on the Church." From that time onwards Taurello 
devoted his life to the service of the house of Romano. 
A typical man of action, endowed with a clear head and 
a strong arm, cunning and tactful, with a useful faculty 
of striking hard and quickly, he soon made his presence 
felt. As Ecelin grew older he deteriorated, and Adelaide 
became the real brain of the house of Romano. So 
long as Adelaide planned and Taurello executed, the 
fortunes of the Imperialists grew and grew. Boniface 
and Azzo were trapped and slain. Three years later 
Guglielm and Aldobrand, their sons and successors, met 
a similar fate. All that was left as the hope of the Papal 
party was Azzo and Count Richard, and now, by this 
happy coup at Ferrara, Richard was at Salinguerra's 
mercy ! But Adelaide was dead and Ecelin a monk at 
Oliero. Of Ecelin and Alberic, the two sons, the one 
was a monster and the other a fool — and Palma was a 
woman. Who was to take the lead ? This was the 
problem that faced Taurello, the answer to which 
the poem relates. 

§ I. The second half of the first Book is occupied with 
the story of the childhood and early development of 
Sordello at Goito Castle, near Mantua. In studying 
the character of Sordello it is necessary to recollect three 
facts: first, that he was a real genius, a born poet 
endowed with the rarest gifts ; secondly, that he was 
utterly ignorant and uneducated ; and thirdly, that he 
never knew the meaning of the word "love." Love- 



44 SORDELLO 

less, ignorant, and lonely, with a soul that above all 
things craved Love, knowledge, and society, Sordello 
grew to manhood under circumstances perhaps unique 

rin their very perverseness. His contest with the world 
is the struggle of immense capability without weapons 
against ordinary stupidity clad in the whole armoury 

•of knowledge and experience. 

£ Sordello is presented to us as one of those who 
physically and mentally are 

" foremost in the regal class 
Nature has broadly severed from her mass 
Of men and framed for pleasure." 

He is of finer clay than the ordinary mortal. With 
Such natures, says Browning, the guiding instinct is 
the sense of beauty ; and their perception even of the 
higher truths, such as the knowledge of God, comes to 
them not from their reasoning powers, but rather from 
an intuitive recognition that " Beauty is Truth, Truth 
Beauty." Such characters are ever prodigal of their 
own wealth, and bestow upon the objects around them 
the riches of their own imagination, though according 
to their strength of mind the effect of so doing upon their 
own development is different. Some, for instance, 
entirely lose their own individuality in what they 
worship, and so " forego their just inheritance " that 
is a place of their own in this world. Others of greater 
power perceive that the ability to discern qualities in 
external objects is an act of their own mind, and in con- 
sequence attribute to themselves in the first instance 
the qualities they perceive in others, so that 

" the homage other souls direct 
without — turns inward " 

— and leads to self-worship and a firm belief in then- 
own powers to accomplish anything. The snare of 
such characters is that they may remain content with 
the realm of imagination wherein they are supreme, 
and thus shirk the dangers and difficulties that surround 
them in the world of fact. Either they do nothing, 
judging this world too small an arena in which to show 
off successfully their powers ; or, if induced to act, they 
do too much, seeking to thrust into a single life-time the 
task of ages^/ Brought up from his earliest childhood 



SORDELLO 45 

entirely alone, Sordello's development was naturally 
different from that of other children. On the one hand, 
he became thoroughly selfish, for he had no one to think; 
about but himself, and (devoid of any instruction) 
without a moral sense ; on the other hand, he became 
self-contained and self-dependent, for he had to tax 
his own resources entirely for pleasure and amusement. 
Thus in lieu of playmates he turns to the trees and 
flowers, endowing them with the various qualities and 
attributes he finds within himself, bestowing upon them 
separate individualities and treating them as friends and 
equals. But though deprived of the normal training 
of worldly experience, time does for him at last what 
contact with other minds does for most children a good 
deal earlier in life, and he becomes self-conscious. He 
becomes aware that the powers and personalities with 
which he has clothed the natural objects around him 
are, after all, but the results of his own Will, and that a 
great and wide difference divides man from nature. 
The enchantment of nature vanishes, and " amid his wild 
wood sights he lived alone." This awakening of his own 
personality comes as somewhat of a shock and tends to 
make him under-estimate nature's place in the scheme of 
things as much as he previously over-estimated it, 1 
but he soon readjusts himself to his new-found knowledge. 
Nature, he perceives, has her functions, limited no doubt, 
but real enough and performed with amazing faithful- 
ness. What then is his ? Is it enough for him to stand 
on the pedestal of his personality content to observe 
and sympathize with surrounding objects ? Why not 
strive after fresh experience ? Has he no proper func- 
tion of his own as man ? If he has exhausted the joys 
of nature, are there not whole regions as yet unexplored 
in humanity ? Can he not create a world of men and 
women before whom he can display more fully the 
powers within him and from whose appreciation he may 
draw a deeper joy than nature can provide ? 

§ 2. So Sordello sets himself, out of the scraps of 
gossip gathered from the servants at the castle and the 
tales and stories he had heard and his own interpreta- 
tion of such occasional events as the sudden arrival of 

1 L. 700 ff. 



46 SORDELLO 

Taurello with his body-guard of archers, to people a world 
with men and women before whom in his dreams he 
parades himself now in one capacity, now in another. 
But it is just at this point that Sordello, through no fault 
of his own, commits the mistake which is to hamper all 
his efforts for years to come, a mistake never fully rectified, 
though dimly perceived at the last. It is that effective 
action in this world comes not from self-display, however 
great our powers, but from willing service of others. 
His failure to realize this was due to the fact that the one 
great example of its truth which draws from the depth 
of the infant soul the latent idea of service — a mother's 
love — was denied him. For the germ of unselfishness 
implanted in each human soul is nursed and tended 
into conscious existence by maternal love. Deprived of 
this most precious gift from infancy, and denied also the 
only other channel through which it could come — 
education — Sordello was left without the one truth lofty 
enough to temper the conscious greatness of his powers 
and to give him in later life an ideal worthy of the full 
devotion of body and soul. 1 

§ 3. So Sordello creates his array of men and women 
and exhausts himself in the variety of his inventions. 
Yet he is dimly conscious that if ever he is to triumph 
in the world of real men and women he will need something 
more than imaginative power. But each attempt to 
exercise his physical powers only reveals to him the more 
clearly his weakness, until finally he yields himself entirely 
to the fascination of his imagination, and remains content 
with the victories and applause so certain and complete, 
which he can always command in the realm of fancy. 
At this point his ideas undergo a further transformation. 
He develops a tendency to combine in one ideal figure 
the qualities and attributes he has hitherto scattered 
broadcast. The result is Apollo — the essence of human 
perfection. But the creator and the creation are difficult 
to keep apart ; " what I can create I must be," argues 
Sordello, until at last they coalesce and Sordello and 
Apollo are one. A similar transformation among his 
female creations produces Daphne, a worthy object 
of Apollo's love. But fact and fancy again are mingled, 

1 This is perhaps the underlying idea in the passage, 731-748. 



SORDELLO 47 

and into Daphne comes the figure of Palma, the story 
of whose beauty and suit with Count Boniface he has 
heard from the castle servants. Thus at the close of 
the first book Sordello dreams, until at last 

" an accident 
Which, breaking on Sordello's mixed content 
Opened, like any flash that cures the blind 
The veritable business of mankind." 



TO J. MILSAND, OF DIJON 

Dear Friend, — Let the next poem be introduced by your 
name, therefore remembered along with one of the deepest of 
my affections, and so repay all trouble it ever cost me. I wrote 
it twenty-five years ago for only a few, counting even in these 
on somewhat more care about its subject than they really had. 
My own faults of expression were many ; but with care for a 
man or book such would be surmounted, and without it what 
avails the faultlessness of either ? I blame nobody, least of all 
myself, who did my best then and since ; for I lately gave time 
and pains to turn my work into what the many might, — instead 
of what the few must,- — like : but after all, I imagined another 
thing at first, and therefore leave as I find it. £The historical 
decoration was purposely of no more importance than a back- 
ground requires ; and my stress lay on the incidents in the 
development of a soul : little else is worth study/ I, at least, 
always thought so— you, with many known and unknown to 
me, think so— others may one day think so ; and whether my 
attempt remain for them or not, I trust, though away and past 
it, to continue ever yours. 

R. B. 
London, June 9, 1863. 



48 



SORDELLO 

1840 

BOOK THE FIRST 

Who will, may hear Sordello's story told : BooK * 

His story ? Who believes me shall behold Intro- 

The man, pursue his fortunes to the end, duction 

Like me : for as the friendless-people's friend 

Spied from his hill-top once, despite the din 

And dust of multitudes, Pentapolin 1 

Named o' the Naked Arm, I single out 

Sordello, compassed murkily about 

With ravage of six long sad hundred years. 

Only believe me. Ye believe ? 

Appears 10 

Verona . . . Never, — I should warn you first, — 3 
Of my own choice had this, if not the worst 
Yet not the best expedient, served to tell 
A story I could body forth so well 
By making speak, myself kept out of view, 
The very man as he was wont to do, 
And leaving you to say the rest for him. 
Since, though I might be proud to see the dim 

1 The allusion is from Don Quixote, Pt. I. c. iv., where Don 
Quixote persuades Sancho that the dust raised by a flock of 
sheep is the army of Alifanfaron, " and that other," he adds, 
" belongs to the king of the Garamanteans, known by the name 
of Pentapolin with the naked arm, because he always goes to 
battle with the sleeve of his right arm tucked up." In the 
revised edition of 1863 Browning's heading for the first page is 
" A Quixotic attempt," hence the allusion. 

2 The introduction (1-72) may be subdivided as follows, 
10-30. Explanation of Browning's choice of the narrative rather 
than the dramatic form. 30-60. He summons an imaginary 
audience to listen (he can always do that, though his living 
audiences, i.e. readers, are scanty enough). 60-72. Apostrophe on 
the spirit of Shelley. 



50 S0RDELL0 

Book I Abysmal past divide its hateful surge, 
Intro- Letting of all men this one man emerge 20 

duction Because it pleased me, yet, that moment past, 
I should delight in watching first to last 
His progress as you watch it, not a whit 
More in the secret than yourselves who sit 
Fresh-chapleted to listen. But it seems 
Your setters-forth of unexampled themes, 
Makers of quite new men, producing them, 
Would best chalk broadly on each vesture's hem 
The wearer's quality ; or take their stand, 
Motley on back and pointing-pole in hand, 1 30 

Beside him. So, for once I face ye, friends, 
Summoned together from the world's four ends, 
Dropped down from heaven or cast up from hell, 
To hear the story I propose to tell. 
Confess now, poets know the dragnet's trick, 
Catching the dead, if fate denies the quick, 
And shaming her 2 ; 'tis not for fate to choose 
Silence or song because she can refuse 
Real eyes to glisten more, real hearts to ache 
Less oft, real brows turn smoother for our sake : 40 

I have experienced something of her spite 1 ; 
But there's a realm wherein she has no right 
And I have many lovers. Say, but few 
Friends fate accords me ? Here they are : now view 
The host I muster ! Many a lighted face 
Foul with no vestige of the grave's disgrace : 
What else should tempt them back to taste our air 
Except to see how their successors fare ? 
My audience ! and they sit, each ghostly man 

28. Would] had. 

1 Browning carries this out literally. Throughout the poem 
he is, as it were, a spectator of the action, from time to time burst- 
ing in to criticize his own creation (not infrequently to the utter 
confusion of the reader), sometimes with a broad humour quite 
suggestive of motley. 

* Browning means that if a poet cannot command popularity 
he has at least imagination enough to call up an audience from 
the past. No one can prevent him doing this, and he proceeds to 
do it. The passage, of course, refers to the limited numbers of 
copies of his previous works which were sold. The few who 
did read his poems were, however, enthusiasts — " the elect, 
chiefly for love." 



SORDELLO 51 

Striving to look as living as he can, 50 Book I 

Brother by breathing brother ; thou art set, 

Clear-witted critic, by l ... but I'll not fret 

A wondrous soul of them, nor move death's spleen 

Who loves not to unlock them. Friends ! I mean 

The living in good earnest — ye elect 

Chiefly for love — suppose not I reject 

Judicious praise, who contrary shall peep, 

Some fit occasion, forth, for fear ye sleep, 

To glean your bland approvals. Then, appear, - 

Verona ! stay — thou, spirit, 2 come not near 60 

Now — not this time desert thy cloudy place Apos- 

To scare me, thus employed, with that pure face ! trophe on 

I need not fear this audience, I make free Shelley 

With them, but then this is no place for thee ! 

The thunder-phrase of the Athenian, grown 

Up out of memories of Marathon, 3 , 

Would echo like his own sword's griding screech ' 

Braying a Persian shield, — ■thejflief-speech 

Of Sidney's self, the starry^paladin, 70 

Turn intense 5 as a trumpet sounding in 

The knights to tilt, — wert thou to hear ! What heart 

Have I to play my puppets, bear my part 

Before these worthies ? 

Lo, the past is hurled 
In twain : up-thrust, out-staggering on the world. Verona : 

Subsiding into shape, a darkness rears night. 

Its outline, kindles at the core, appears hi ?^ r cal 

Verona. 'Tis six hundred years and more 

53. Death] death. 60. not] nor. 

1 This is a little bit of humour meaning to imply that Browning 
puts the critic next to some author who in life he had handled , 
severely. 

2 The heading on the page at the close of this passage in the 
Edit, of 1863 reads: "Shelley departing, Verona appears." 
These headings were added by Browning himself. 

3 iEschylus, the Greek poet, who fought against the Persians 
at Marathon. 

* His nom-de-plume was " Astrophel." 

6 Forced : strained ; when used as here of literary style. 
Johnson quotes Roscommon — 

" Sublime or low, unbended or intense. 
The sound is still a comment to the sense." 



52 SORDELLO 

Book I Since an event. The Second Friedrich 1 wore 

The purple, and the Third Honorius filled 80 

The holy chair. That autumn eve was stilled : 

A last remains of sunset dimly burned 

O'er the far forests, like a torch-flame turned 

By the wind back upon its bearer's hand 

In one long flare of crimson ; as a brand, 

The woods beneath lay black. A single eye 

From all Verona cared for the soft sky. 

But, gathering in its ancient market-place, 

Talked group with restless group ; and not a face 

But wrath made livid, for among them were 90 

Death's staunch purveyors, such as have in care 

Scene in To feast him. Fear had long since taken root 
the j n every breast, and now these crushed its fruit, 
bquare jj^ r jp e jjate, ]jjj e a -^ng • to note the way 

It worked while each grew drunk ! Men grave and grey 
Stood, with shut eyelids, rocking to and fro, 
Letting the silent luxury trickle slow 
About the hollows where a heart should be ; 
But the young gulped with a delirious glee 
Some foretaste of their first debauch in blood 100 

At the fierce news : for, be it understood, 
Envoys apprised Verona that her prince 
Count Richard of Saint Boniface, joined since 
The A year with Azzo, Este's Lord, to thrust 
cause Taurello Salinguerra, prime in trust 
With Ecelin Romano, from his seat 
Ferrara, — over zealous in the feat 
And stumbling on a peril unaware, 
Was captive, trammelled in his proper snare, 

1 Grandson of the Great Frederic I. (Barbarossa), "successively 
the pupil, the enemy, and the victim of the Church" (Gibbon). 
Neither Pope nor Emperor come actually into the story, though 
from time to time their shadows fall across the background of 
the picture. Frederic II. was born in 1194. The same year 
Ecelin's son (the last Ecelin) was born (according to the story, 
at Vicenza), just before the expulsion which took place the same 
year. Honorius III. was Pope from 1216 to 1227. Frederic's 
father, Henry VI., died in 1197, and his mother, Constance, in 1198. 
Until his coronation in 1212, the real emperor was Otho IV., who 
had successfully disputed the throne with Philip, Frederic's 
uncle. Frederic died in 1250. All of these are mentioned 
in the poem. 



SORDELLO 



53 



120 



They phrase it, taken by his own intrigue. 1 
Immediate succour from the Lombard League 
Of fifteen cities that affect the Pope, 3 
For Azzo, therefore, and his fellow-hope 
Of the Guelf cause, a glory overcast ! 
Men's faces, late agape, are now aghast. 
" Prone is the purple pavis 3 ; Este makes 
" Mirth for the devil when he undertakes 
" To play the Ecelin ; as if it cost 
" Merely your pushing-by to gain a post 
" Like his ! The patron tells ye, once for all, 
" There be sound reasons that preferment fall 
" On our beloved "... 

" Duke o' the Rood, why not ? " 
Shouted an Estian, " grudge ye such a lot ? 
" The hill-cat 4 boasts some cunning of her own, 
" Some stealthy trick to better beasts unknown, 
" That quick with prey enough her hunger blunts, 
" And feeds her fat while gaunt the lion hunts." 

" Taurello," quoth an envoy, " as in wane 
" Dwelt at Ferrara. 5 Like an osprey fain 
" To fly but forced the earth his couch to make 
" Far inland, till his friend the tempest wake, 

116. pavis] pavice. 

1 The envoys are from Taurello, as the tone of their language 
makes plain. The " immediate succour " would be the voluntary 
and spontaneous response of the Veronese, who were members 
of the Lombard League. The envoys' speech stops at " intrigue." 

3 This renewal of the first Lombard League (1167 a.d.) took 
place in 1226. The following towns joined : — Milan, Bologna, 
Piacenza, Verona, Brescia, Faenza, Mantua, Vercelli, Lodi, 
Bergamo, Turin, Alessandria, Vicenza, Padua, and Treviso. The 
historical facts were that Lombardy with Papal consent was 
put under the ban of the Empire, Pope and Emperor joining 
together : this singular position was due to Papal anxiety for 
the Crusade. The next Pope, Gregory IX., took a different 
view. The removal of the ban took place in 1227, almost Honorius' 
last act.— Kington, History of Frederick II. 

3 A convex shield large enough to cover the whole body, used 
as a defence against archery, especially in sieges : the term 
has been enlarged to cover any large shield carried by a page. 
The ground of the Este arms was azure, with a silver eagle. 

4 The Hill-cat, i.e. Ecelin da Romano. The lion is Este. 

6 This is ironical. The Envoy puts the Guelf point of view, 
but only to show how greatly they were mistaken in the sequel. 
Taurello was always most dangerous when he appeared weakest. 



1 10 Book I 



Com- 
ments of 
crowd 



Envoy's 
story 



130 



54 SORDELLO 

Book I " Waits he the Kaiser's coming ; and as yet 

" That fast friend sleeps, and he too sleeps : but let 

" Only the billow freshen, and he snuffs 

" The aroused hurricane ere it enroughs 

" The sea it means to cross because of him. 

" Sinketh the breeze ? His hope-sick eye grows dim ; 

" Creep closer on the creature ! Every day 

" Strengthens the Pontiff ; Ecelin, they say, 

" Dozes now at Oliero, with dry lips 140 

" Telling upon his perished finger-tips 

" How many ancestors are to depose 

" E'er he be Satan's Viceroy when the doze 

" Deposits him in hell. So, Guelfs rebuilt 

" Their houses ; not a drop of blood was spilt 

" When Cino Bocchimpane chanced to meet 

" Buccio Virtu — God's wafer, and the street 

" Is narrow ! Tutti Santi, think, a-swarm 

" With Ghibellins, and yet he took no harm ! 

" This could not last. Off Salinguerra went 150 

Guelfs •• Jo Padua, Podesta, 1 ' with pure intent,' 
nse " Said he, ' my presence, judged the single bar 
" ' To permanent tranquillity, may jar 
" ' No longer ' — so ! his back is fairly turned ? 
" The pair of goodly palaces are burned, 
" The gardens ravaged, 2 and our Guelfs laugh, drunk 
" A week with joy. The next, their laughter sunk 
" In sobs of blood, for they found, some strange way, 
" Old Salinguerra back again — I say, 
" Old Salinguerra in the town once more 160 

156. and our Guelfs, etc.] and your Guelf is drunk — a week with 
joy. 157 their] his. 158. they] he. 

1 Party feeling ran so high in Italian towns that the practice 
grew up of inviting some prominent citizen from some other 
city to come and dispense justice as chief magistrate, with the 
title of Podesta. Taurello's action was, however, on this occasion, 
as we learn from Palma's speech in Bk. iii. (502-516), a piece of 
deep diplomacy, for a rising of the Guelfs at Ferrara was just 
what he hoped for. See Introd., Bk. i. 5. 

a The following description of Salinguerra's two dwelling- 
places in Ferrara is given in the Parva Chronica Ferrariensis : 
Salinguerra . . . cum non solum habueret in Parrochia Sancti 
Salvatoris, ubi habitabat, aedes, et Palatia magna, verum etiam 
pomaria, hortos, vinctum et pratum et profui et fautorum ejus 
tutamine ibi Castellum construxit quod fossis aggere et vallo 
munivit ac turribus, in necessitatibus opportunum. 



SORDELLO 55 

" Uprooting, overturning, flame before, Book I 

" Blood fetlock-high beneath him. Azzo fled ; 

^ Who 'scaped the carnage followed ; then the dead 

" Were pushed aside from Salinguerra's throne, Taurello 

" He ruled once more Ferrara, all alone, returns 

" Till Azzo, stunned awhile, revived, would pounce 

" Coupled with Boniface, like lynx and ounce, 

" On the gorged bird. The burghers ground their teeth 

" To see troop after troop encamp beneath 

" I' the standing corn thick o'er the scanty patch 170 

" It took so many patient months to snatch 

" Out of the marsh ; while just within their walls 

" Men fed on men. At length Taurello calls 

" A parley : ' let the Count wind up the war ! ' 

" Richard, light-hearted as a plunging star, 

" Agrees to enter for the kindest ends 

" Ferrara, flanked with fifty chosen friends, 

" No horse-boy more, for fear your timid sort 

" Should fly Ferrara at the bare report. 

" Quietly through the town they rode, jog-jog ; 180 

" ' Ten, twenty, thirty, — curse the catalogue Capture 

" ' Of burnt Guelf houses ! Strange, Taurello shows ° f . , 

" ' Not the least sign of life '—whereat arose Richard 

" A general growl : ' How ? With his victors by ? 

" ' I and my Veronese ? My troops and I ? 

" ' Receive us, was your word ? ' So jogged they on, 

" Nor laughed their host too openly : once gone 

" Into the trap 1 !— ■" 

Six hundred years ago ! 
Such the time's aspect and peculiar woe 
(Yourselves may spell it yet in chronicles, 190 

Albeit the worm, our busy brother, drills 
His sprawling path through letters anciently 
Made fine and large to suit some abbot's eye) 
When the new Hohenstauffen dropped the mask, 
Flung John of Brienne's favour from his casque, 
Forswore crusading, had no mind to leave 
Saint Peter's proxy leisure to retrieve 

1 This is quite historical and took place in 1224 a.d. Rolandino 
gives no exact numbers for Richard's escort, merely saying, 
" cum quadam militum quantitate." Pietro Gerardo, however, 
is more explicit, and says, " con circa cinquanta cavalli" (Vita, 
Ezzelino, iii. p. 18). 



56 SORDELLO 

Book I Losses to Otho and to Barbaross, 
Empire Or make the Alps less easy to recross ; 

311(1 And, thus confirming Pope Honorius' fear, 200 

Papacy -yj^ excommunicate that very year. 1 

" The triple-bearded Teuton come to life ! " 2 

Groaned the Great League ; and, arming for the strife, 

Wide Lombardy, on tiptoe to begin, 

Took up, as it was Guelf or Ghibellin, 

Its cry : what cry ? 

" The Emperor to come ! " 

His crowd of feudatories, all and some, 

That leapt down with a crash of swords, spears, shields, 

One fighter on his fellow, to our fields, 

Scattered anon, took station here and there, 210 

And carried it, till now, with little care — 

Cannot but cry for him ; how else rebut 

Us longer ? — cliffs, an earthquake suffered jut 3 

In the mid-sea, each domineering crest 

Which nought save such another throe can wrest 

215. Which nought] nothing save such, etc. 

1 Frederic II. displayed great eagerness for a crusade, but 
constantly postponed it. His son-in-law, John of Brienne, 
titular King of Jerusalem, sent him a palm branch to remind 
him (Bk. i. 870). When everything was in readiness at 
Naples for embarkation he suddenly threw up the idea for 
political reasons and was excommunicated. He afterwards 
went and made an advantageous treaty with the Saracens, but 1 
his preference for treaty rather than slaughter caused his second 
excommunication. It should be remembered that the crusades 
were always a great political opportunity for the Popes getting 
their chief opponents out of the way, who often left their kingdoms 
in the hands of Ecclesiastics (11. 197-199). 

2 Frederic I. (Barbarossa), of whom the legend was current 
that he was not dead (he was drowned going on a crusade) but 
sat with his knights around a table in a castle in Thuringia, and 
would come to life when his beard had grown three times round 
the table. He invaded Italy several times : on the first occasion 
he was crowned in the Vatican ; twelve years later he besieged 
Rome and seated an Anti-Pope in the Papal chair. His severity 
and power made him dreaded by the Papal party, hence, when his 
grandson forswore his crusade, he was promptly excommunicated. 

3 Cliffs represent Imperialists, chokeweed the Guelfs. Though 
putting the Ghibelline point of view the speaker is apparently 
a Guelf. The Ghibelline cry for the Emperor is natural, he says ; 
how else prevent their complete absorption by the Guelfs, who 
every day grow stronger. 



SORDELLO 57 

From out (conceive) a certain chokeweed grown Book t 

Since o'er the waters, twine and tangle thrown 

Too thick, too fast accumulating round, 

Too sure to over-riot and confound 

Ere long each brilliant islet with itself, 220 

Unless a second shock save shoal and shelf, 

Whirling the sea-drift wide : alas, the bruised 

And sullen wreck ! Sunlight to be diffused 

For that ! — sunlight, 'neath which, a scum at first, 

The million fibres of our chokeweed nurst 

Dispread themselves, mantling the troubled main, 

And, shattered by those rocks, took hold again, 

So kindly blazed it — that same blaze to brood 

O'er every cluster of the multitude 

Still hazarding new clasps, ties, filaments, 230 

An emulous exchange of pulses, vents 

Of nature with nature ; till some growth 

Unfancied yet, exuberantly clothe 

A surface solid now, continuous, one * : 

" The Pope, for us the People, who begun 

" The People, carries on the People thus, 

" To keep that Kaiser off and dwell with us ! " 

See you ? 

Or say, Two Principles that live Rise of 

Each fitly by its Representative. Romano 

" Hill-cat " — who called him so ? — the gracefullest 240 
Adventurer, the ambiguous stranger-guest 
Of Lombardy (sleek but that ruffling fur, 
Those talons to their sheath !) whose velvet purr Ecelo I 

Soothes jealous neighbours when a Saxon scout 
— Arpo or Yoland, is it 2 ? — one without 

1 The invasion of Italy by Frederic Barbarossa (the earth- 
quake) had established the Imperialist party (the rocks) in 
Lombardy. Now, however, under the fostering warmth of the 
Papal sun it was in danger of being completely smothered by 
the Papal party (chokeweed) unless a second invasion by Frederic 
II. took place. Lombardy is the wreck. 

3 In the introduction to Verci's Storia degli Ecelini the origin 
of the Romano family is discussed at great length. The deciding 
evidence may be summarized thus : In a document found at 
Trevigi, dated 1076, Ecelo, " son of Arpo," sells a possession 
to Ugo da Cavaso. This is corroborated by Rolandino, who, 
speaking of Ecelino in 1188, says, " Amicitiam cum Paduanis 
contraxit, et obbligavit pignori eis curiam de Honoria, quam 
pUm Eccilis avus ejus habuerat ab antiquis a Rege Corrado, cum 



58 SORDELLO 

Book I A country or a name, presumes to couch 

Beside their noblest ; until men avouch 

That, of all Houses in the Trevisan, 

Conrad descries no fitter, rear or van, 

Than Ecelo ! They laughed as they enrolled 250 

That name at Milan on the page of gold, 

Godego's lord, — Ramon, Marostica, 

Cartiglion, Bassano, Loria, 

And every sheep-cote on the Suabian's fief ! 
Ecelin II No laughter when his son, " the Lombard Cbief " 
(thestam- Forsooth, as Barbarossa's path was bent 
merer) To Italy along the Va le of Trent, 

Welcomed him at Roncaglia x ! Sadness now — 

The hamlets nested on the Tyrol's brow, 

The Asolan and Euganean hills, 260 

The Rhetian and the Julian, sadness fills 

Them all, for Ecelin vouchsafes to stay 

Among and care about them ; day by day 

Choosing this pinnacle, the other spot, 

A castle building to defend a cot, 

A cot built for a castle to defend, 

Nothing but castles, castles nor an end 

To boasts how mountain ridge may join with ridge 

By sunken gallery and soaring bridge. 2 

He takes, in brief, a figure that beseems 270 

The griesliest nightmare of the Church's dreams, 

— A Signory firm-rooted, unestranged 

From its old interests, and nowise changed 

252. Godego's lord]. For Godego, Ramon, Marostica. 262. 
Them all, for] Them all that. 

quo venerat de Alemannia miles ab uno equo. Browning's use 
of the word " Saxon " is probably a recollection of an earlier 
passage, where Verci quotes Alfonso Loschi as saying, " Ecelino 
fu originate dal sangue de " Sassoni." It is not so easy to 
explain why he uses " Yoland," since the name does not occur 
anywhere in the family, and no hint is given by any author of 
any such name. Several writers, however, call the originator 
of the family Ecelino d'Olanda, which may possibly have sug- 
gested " Yoland." 

1 Roncaglia. The plain of Roncaglia was the spot where 
the Emperors held their Diets to settle the law and the pay- 
ments of Italy. Frederic Barbarossa held the one here alluded 
to in 1154. 

* Pence the " PiU-cat," 



SORDELLO 59 

By its new neighbourhood : perchance the vaunt Book I 

Of Otho, " my own Este shall supplant 

" Your Este," come to pass. 1 The sire led in 

A son as cruel ; and this Ecelin 

Had sons, in turn, and daughters sly and tall Ecelin III 

And curling and compliant ; but for all ( the 

Romano (so they styled him) throve, that neck 280 monk) 

Of his so pinched and white, that hungry cheek 

Proved 'twas some fiend, not him, the man's-flesh went 

To feed : whereas Romano's instrument, 

Famous Taurello Salinguerra, sole Sketch of 

I' the world, a tree whose boughs were slipt the bols Salin- 

Successively, 2 why should not he shed blood guerra 

To further a design ? Men understood 

Living was pleasant to him as he wore 

His careless surcoat, glanced some missive o'er, 

Propped on his truncheon in the public way, 290 

While his lord lifted writhen hands to pray, 

Lost at Oliero's convent. 

Hill-cats, face 
Our Azzo, our Guelf Lion ! Why disgrace The 

A worthiness conspicuous near and far House of 

(Atii at Rome while free and consular, Este 

Este at Padua who repulsed the Hun) 3 

280. throve] thrives. 282. proved] prove, the man's flesh] 
men's flesh is meant. 286. should] shall. 291. While, etc.] 
Ecelin lifts two writhen hands to pray — at Oliero's convent now. 
So, place-for Azzo, Lion of the . . . why, etc. 296. who] to 
repulse. 

1 Otho IV. was distantly connected with the house of Este 
through the marriage of Cunigunda, the sister of Welf the Younger, 
to Azzo (III.) in 1055. Thus the house of Este was represented 
on the Ghibelline side by the Emperor (or his nominee Ecelin) 
and on the Guelf side by the present Marquis Azzo VII. Thus 
if the Imperial cause triumphed through the rise of the Romano 
family, the Guelf Este might be said to be supplanted by the 
Ghibelline Este. 

1 He was really Sordello's father, though he thought his son 
had been killed. The true story told by Adelaide to Palma 
when dying was by her repeated to Taurello and Sordello. See 
Introd., Bk. i., § 6. 

3 Pigna, in his Historia Principi di Este, begins the Este 
pedigree with one Caio Atio, whose son of the same name he 
designates " Decurioneet Principe di Este." Later in the history 
he relates the prowess of the Este in the Hunnish invasion under 
Attila. 



60 SORDELLO 

Book I By trumpeting the Church's princely son ? 
— Styled Patron of Rovigo's Polesine, 
Ancona's march, Ferrara's . . . ask, in fine, 
Our chronicles, commenced when some old monk 300 
Found it intolerable to he sunk 
(Vexed to the quick by his revolting cell) 
Quite out of summer while alive and well : 
Ended when by his mat the Prior stood, 
'Mid busy promptings of the brotherhood, 
Striving to coax from his decrepit brains 
The reason Father Porphyry took pains 
To blot those ten lines out which used to stand 
First on their charter drawn by Hildebrand. 1 

The same night wears. Verona's rule of yore 310 
Was vested in a certain Twenty-four ; 
And while within his palace these debate 

Ecelin's Concerning Richard and Ferrara's fate, 

castle at Glide we by clapping doors, with sudden glare 

Verona of cressets vented on the dark, nor care 

For aught that's seen or heard until we shut 
The smother in, the lights, all noises but 
The carroch's booming 2 : safe at last ! Why strange 
Such a recess should lurk behind a range 
Of banquet-rooms ? Your finger — thus — you push 320 
A spring, and the wall opens, would you rush 
Upon the banqueters, select your prey, 
Waiting (ths slaughter-weapons in the way 
Strewing this very bench) with sharpened ear 
A preconcerted signal to appear ; 
Or if you simply crouch with beating heart, 
Bearing in some voluptuous pageant part 
To startle them. Nor mutes nor masquers now ; 
Palma Nor any . . . does that one man sleep whose brow 
and The dying lamp-flame sinks and rises o'er ? 330 

Sordeiio Wliat woman s t od beside him ? not the more 

300. Our] Your. 

1 This is a good example of the unnecessary padding in Sordeiio. 
It is quite irrelevant and only serves to confuse the action. 

2 This was a chariot, or rather waggon, painted with vermilion 
and bearing a bell and the city standard. It was invented by 
Eribert, Archbishop of Milan, about 1039 (Hallam). There 
was also an altar upon it and ministrant priests went with it. 
Cf. Bk. iv. 350 ff. 



SORDELLO 61 

Is he unfastened from the earnest eyes Book I 

Because that arras fell between ! Her wise 

And lulling words are yet about the room, 

Her presence wholly poured upon the gloom 

Down even to her vesture's creeping stir. 

And so reclines he, saturate with her, 

Until an outcry from the square beneath 

Pierces the charm 1 : he springs up, glad to breathe, 

Above the cunning element, 2 and shakes 340 

The stupor off as (look you) morning breaks 

On the gay dress, 3 and, near concealed by it, 

The lean frame like a half-burnt taper, lit 

Erst at some marriage-feast, then laid away 

Till the Armenian bridegroom's dying day, 

In his wool wedding-robe. 

For he — for he, 
Gate-vein of this hearts' blood of Lombardy, 
(If I should falter now) — for he is thine ! 

Sordello, thy forerunner, Florentine ! Sordello 

A herald-star I know thou didst absorb 4 350 — the 

Relentless into the consummate orb fore - 

That scared it from its right to roll along of 'Sante 

A sempiternal path with dance and song 
Fulfilling its allotted period, 
Serenest of the progeny of God — 
Who yet resigns it not ! His darling stoops 
With no quenched lights, desponds with no blank troop 
Of disenfranchised brilliances, for, blent 
Utterly with thee, its shy element 
Like thine upburneth prosperous and clear. 360 

Still, what if I approach the august sphere 
Named now with only one name, disentwine 
That under-current soft and argentine 
From its fierce mate in the majestic mass 
Leavened as the sea whose fire was mixt with glass 

1 See Bk. iii. 280-304. 

2 Palma has been putting before Sordello her plans for the 
future, in which he is to assume the headship of the house of 
Romano. See her long speech, Bk. iii. 325-573. 

* That of Court Minstrel. 

4 Sordello's story and the part he played in history have 
hitherto been obscured by Dante, his great successor. Browning 
is going to disentangle it. 



62 SORDELLO 

Book I In John's transcendent vision, 1 — launch once more 
That lustre ? Dante, pacer of the shore 
Where glutted hell disgorge th filthiest gloom, 2 
Unbitten by its whirring sulphur-spume — 
Or whence the grieved and obscure waters slope 370 
Into a darkness quieted by hope ; 
Plucker of amaranths grown beneath God's eye 
In gracious twilights where his chosen lie, — 
I would do this ! If I should falter now ! 
Goito In Mantua territory half is slough, 
castle Half pine-tree forest ; maples, scarlet oaks 
Mantua Breed °' er tne river-beds ; even Mincio chokes 
With sand the summer through : but 'tis morass 
In winter up to Mantua walls. There was, 
Some thirty years before this evening's coil, 380 

One spot reclaimed from the surrounding spoil, 
Goito ; just a castle built amid 
A few low mountains ; firs and larches hid 
Their main defiles, and rings of vineyard bound 
The rest. Some captured creature in a pound, 
Whose artless wonder quite precludes distress, 
Secure beside in its own loveliness, 
So peered with airy head, below, above, 
The castle at its toils, the lapwings love 
To glean among at grape-time. 3 Pass within. 390 

A maze of corridors contrived for sin, 
Dusk winding-stairs, dim galleries got past, 
You gain the inmost chambers, gain at last 
A maple-panelled room : that haze which seems 
Floating about the panel, if there gleams 
A sunbeam over it, will turn to gold 

1 " And I saw as it were a sea.of glass mingled with fire." — 
Rev. xv. 2. 

3 Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise are successively indicated. 

3 Goito is about ten miles from Mantua on the road to Brescia. 
It consists to-day of a small village comprising a single street 
and a few scattered houses. A tall red-brick mediaeval tower 
called the "Torre Sordello " is the only architectural feature; 
beyond this no sign of a castle exists. The tower bears a modern 
inscription in praise of Sordello. The tower recalls the Ecelini 
castle at Bassano in appearance, and traces of very old red-brick 
walls suggest that Browning may be right as to a castle. It is 
probable, however, that Browning wrote this description previous 
to his visit to Italy, so that unless he revised it after his return, 
it is most likely pure conjecture. 



SORDELLO 63 

And in light-graven characters unfold Book I 

The Arab's wisdom everywhere * ; what shade 

Marred them a moment, those slim pillars made, 

Cut like a company of palms to prop 400 

The roof, each kissing top entwined with top, 

Leaning together ; in the carver's mind 

Some knot of bacchanals, flushed cheek combined 

With straining forehead, shoulders purpled, hair 

Diffused between, who in a goat-skin bear 

A vintage ; graceful sister-palms ! But quick 

To the main wonder, now. A vault, see ; thick 

Black shade about the ceiling, though fine slits Tlie Font 

Across the buttress suffer light by fits 

Upon a marvel in the midst. Nay, stoop — 410 

A dullish grey-streaked cumbrous font, a group 

Round it, — each side of it, where'er one sees, — 

Upholds it ; shrinking Caryatides 

Of just-tinged marble like Eve's lilied flesh 

Beneath her maker's finger when the fresh 

First pulse of life shot brightening the snow. 

The font's edge burthens every shoulder, so 

They muse upon the ground, eyelids half closed ; 

Some, with meek arms behind their backs disposed, 

Some, crossed above their bosoms, some, to veil 420 

Their eyes, some, propping chin and cheek so pale, 

Some, hanging slack an utter helpless length 

Dead as a buried vestal whose whole strength 

Goes when the grate above shuts heavily. 2 

So dwell these noiseless girls, patient to see, 

Like priestesses because of sin impure 

Penanced for ever, who resigned endure, 

Having that once drunk sweetness to the dregs. 

And every eve, Sordello's visit begs 

Pardon for them : constant as eve he came 430 

To sit beside each in her turn, the same 

As one of them, a certain space : and awe 

1 Adelaide was deeply read in astrology, a science which 
reached Italy from the Mahometans in Spain. A letter is extant 
from Ecelin to his sons, in which he alludes to their mother 
Adelaide, who, he says, " knew the courses of the stars." 

2 At Rome the sacred fire of Vesta was tended by chosen 
virgins called vestals. They took a vow of service for thirty 
years. Unchaste virgins were buried alive in the Campus 
Sceleratus. 



64 SORDELLO 

Book I Made a great indistinctness till he saw 
Sordello Sunset slant cheerful through the buttress-chinks, 
and the Gold seven times globed x ; surely our maiden shrinks 
Font A n( j a sm ji e s ti rs h er ^ if one f am t grain 

Her load were lightened, one shade less the stain 

Obscured her forehead, yet one more bead slipt 

From off the rosary whereby the crypt 

Keeps count of the contritions of its charge 2 ? 440 

Then with a step more light, a heart more large, 

He may depart, leave her and every one 

To linger out the penance in mute stone. 

Ah, but Sordello ? 'Tis the tale I mean 

To tell you. 

In this castle may be seen, 
On the hill tops, or underneath the vines, 
Or eastward by the mound of firs and pines 
That shuts out Mantua, still in loneliness, 
A slender boy in a loose page's dress, 
Sordello : do but look on him awhile 450 

Watching ('tis autumn) with an earnest smile 
The noisy flock of thievish birds at work 
Among the yellowing vineyards ; see him lurk 
('Tis winter with its sullenest of storms) 
Beside that arras-length of broidered forms, 
On tiptoe, lifting in both hands a light 
Which makes yon warrior's visage flutter bright 
— Ecelo, dismal father of the brood, 
And Ecelin, close to the girl he wooed, 
Auria, and their Child, with all his wives 460 

From Agnes to the Tuscan that survives, 
Lady of the Castle, Adelaide. 3 His face 

447. eastward] southward. 

1 Gold is refined in globes (D.). 

3 Sordello did not know it, but his mother Retrude was buried 
beneath this font. See Bk. v. 795. 

3 Ecelin the Stammerer married Auria da Baone. Ecelin the 
Monk was their second son, and had four wives, viz., Agnes Este, 
Speronella Dalesmannini, Cecilia da Abano, and Adelaide of 
Mangone (see Table). Agnes Este died giving birth to a 
daughter, the " Palma" of Sordello. Speronella, though only 
fifteen, had already been married to four husbands ; she deserted 
Ecelin, and married her sixth husband, Olderico da Monselice 
and died in 1 1 90 at the age of fifty. Cecilia, who was an orphan' 
was destined to marry Gerardo Camposampiero ; Ecelin, how- 



SORDELLO 65 

— Look, now he turns away ! Yourselves shall trace Book I 

(The delicate nostril swerving wide and fine, Sordello 

A sharp and restless lip, so well combine 

With that calm brow) a soul fit to receive 

Delight at every sense ; you can believe 

Sordello foremost in the regal class 

Nature has broadly severed from her mass 

Of men, and framed for pleasure, as she frames 470 

Some happy lands, that have luxurious names, 

For loose fertility ; a footfall there 

Suffices to upturn to the warm air 

Half-germinating spices ; mere decay 

Produces richer life ; and day by day 

New pollen on the lily-petal grows, 

And still more labyrinthine buds the rose. 

You recognize at once the finer dress 

Of flesh that amply lets in loveliness 

At eye and ear, while round the rest is furled 480 

(As though she would not trust them with her world) 

A veil that shows a sky not near so blue, 

And lets but half the sun look fervid through. 

How can such love ? — like souls on each full-fraught < 

Discovery brooding, blind at first to aught 1 

Beyond its beauty, till exceeding love 

Becomes an aching weight ; and, to remove 

A curse that haunts such natures — to preclude 

Their finding out themselves can work no good 

To what they love nor make it very blest 490 

By their endeavour, — they are fain invest 

The lifeless thing with life from their own soul, 

Availing it to purpose, to control, His sensi- 

To dwell distinct and have peculiar joy tiveness 

And separate interests that may employ to Beautv 

That beauty fitly, for its proper sake. 1 

484. Such love ?] How can such love like souls, etc. 

ever, by a trick married her to his son. In revenge she was 
violated by Gerardo while on a visit : on her return she was 
repudiated by Ecelin, who soon after married his fourth and 
last wife, Adelaide, sister of the Conte de Mangone. 

1 This overpowering sense of beauty leads such natures as 
Sordello to clothe the inanimate objects around them each with 
a personality of its own. Partly to satisfy their own luxuriant 
imagination, partly also to hide from themselves the truth that 
man " dwells with beauty, beauty that must die." 



66 SORDELLO 

Book I Nor rest they here ; fresh births of beauty wake 
Fresh homage, every grade of love is past, 
With every mode of loveliness : then cast 
Inferior idols off their borrowed crown 500 

Before a coming glory. Up and down 
Runs arrowy fire, while earthly forms combine 
To throb the secret forth ; a touch divine — 
And the scaled eyeball owns the mystic rod ; 
Visibly through his garden walketh God. 1 
(i) Ob- So fare they. Now revert. (One character 
jectiye Denotes them through the progress and the stir, — 

worship ^ need to blend with each external charm, 

Bury themselves, the whole heart wide and warm, — 
In something not themselves ; they would belong 510 
To what they worship — stronger and more strong 
Thus prodigally fed — which gathers shape 
And feature, soon imprisons past escape 
The votary framed to love and to submit 
Nor ask, as passionate he kneels to it, 
Whence grew the idol's empery. 2 So runs 
A legend ; light had birth ere moons and suns, 

1 This sensibility to beauty, beginning with mere unconscious 
worship, ultimately, however, reveals the deepest truths. The 
knowledge of God, for instance, comes to such rather through a 
kind of sudden aesthetic intuition than through any process of 
reasoning. 

We have in this passage an epitome of Browning's philosophy. 
He carries Keats' phrase, " Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty," to 
its full conclusion, " Beauty is truth : Truth is Love and Love is 
God." The imagery of this passage is drawn from the Old 
Testament. Cf. Ezekiel c. i. v. 14 : " And the living creatures ran 
and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning." See tie 
whole chapter, and again the verse in Micah vi. 9 : " The man 
of wisdom shall see Thy name ; hear ye the rod and who hath 
appointed it." 
f 2 There is a type of character upon which a keen sense of 
beauty reacts with ill effect. With such the heart runs away 
with the head. Giving themselves up to the luxury of sensuous 
delight, they sacrifice their individuality to emotional enjoyment. 
They become the slaves of what they worship, and in conse- 
quence gain nothing, being unable to turn their artistic perception 
to higher uses. There is, however, a stronger type, who, realizing 
that the perception of beauty is the action of their own mind, 
remain masters of what they worship. With such the danger is 
not loss of individuality, but excess of self-worship. Sordello 
, was of this stronger class, with whom " homage, other souls 
L direct without — turns inward." 



SORDELLO 67 

Flowing through space a river and alone, Book t 

Till chaos burst and blank the spheres were strown 

Hither and thither, foundering and blind : 520 

When into each of them rushed light — to find 

Itself no place, foiled of its radiant chance. 1 

Let such forego their just inheritance ! 

For there's a class that eagerly looks, too, 

On beauty, but, unlike the gentler crew, 

Proclaims each new revealment born a twirl (ii) Sub 

With a distinctest consciousness within. jective 

Referring still the quality, now first worship 

Revealed, to their own soul — its instinct nursed 

In silence, now remembered better, shown 530 

More thoroughly, but not the less their own ; 

A dream come true ; the special exercise 

Of any special function that implies 

The being fair, or good, or wise, or strong, 

Dormant within their nature all along — 

Whose fault ? So, homage, other souls direct 

Without, turns inward. 1 " How should this deject 

" Thee, soul ? " they murmur ; " wherefore strength be 

quelled 
" Because, its trivial accidents withheld, 
" Organs are missed that clog the world, inert, 540 

" Wanting a will, to quicken and exert, 
" Like thine — existence cannot satiate, 
" Cannot surprise ? Laugh thou at envious fate, 
" Who, from earth's simplest combination stampt 
" With individuality — uncrampt 
" By living its faint elemental life, 
" Dost soar to heaven's complexest essence, rife 
" With grandeurs, unaffronted to the last, 
" Equal to being all ! " 2 

In truth ? Thou hast 

1 As the Light is said to have lost its own place and personality 
by filling the stars, so the soul that buries itself indiscriminately 
in the things without it loses likewise its own individuality. 

8 Nature strikes the balance between the spiritual and the • 
material by denying to the poetic soul the active principle which 
results in deeds and which characterizes the man of action. 
Sordello, conscious of his weakness on the physical side, excuses 
himself by depreciation of that which he lacks and a correspond- 
ing exaltation of that which he possesses, and remains content 
with the conscious potentialities of powers he cannot use. 



68 SORDELLO 

Book I Life, then — wilt challenge life for us : our race 550 

Is vindicated so, obtains its place 
In thy ascent, the first of us ; whom we 
May follow, to the meanest, finally, 
With our more bounded wills x ? 

Ah, but to find 
Their A certain mood enervate such a mind, 
weakness Counsel it slumber in the solitude 

Thus reached nor, stooping, task for mankind's good 
Its nature just as life and time accord 
" — Too narrow an arena to reward 
Do noth- " Emprize — the world's occasion worthless since 560 
i n g " Not absolutely fitted to evince 

" Its mastery ! " Or if yet worse befall, 
And a desire possess it to put all 
That nature forth, forcing our straitened sphere 
Contain it, — to display completely here 
The mastery another life should learn, 
Thrusting in time eternity's concern, — 
or try too So that Sordello. ... / 

much Fool, who spied(the mark 

Of leprosy upon him, violet-dark 

Already as he loiters ^l Born just now 570 

With the new century "beside the glow 
And efflorescence out of barbarism ; 
Witness a Greek or two from the abysm s 
That stray through Florence-town with studious air. 
Calming the chisel of that Pisan pair 4 : 

1 The contrast is between this dream-child of genius and the 
ordinary mortal, who for all his limitations and disadvantages 
at least does something with his life, whereas such as Sordello 
either do nothing (this world being deemed too small to adequately 
show off their powers) or, if moved to action, try too much and 
break down beneath the strain. 

2 Browning was nearly anticipating his story by an ill-timed 
exposure of his hero's real weakness, so he breaks abruptly off 
into a description of Italy, now first stirring with the breath of 
the Renascence. 

3 The Byzantine Empire was now beginning its final struggle 
with the Turks. Constantinople had been conquered and 
sacked, moreover, by the Crusaders in 1204, which had led to the 
dissemination of Greek art and influence in the West. 

4 The first of the pair is evidently Niccola Pisano (c. 1206-1278), 
sculptor and architect, whose baptistery at Pisa and pulpit in 
the cathedral at Siena are still admired. The second can scarcely 



SORDELLO 69 

If Nicolo should carve a Christus yet ! Book I 

While at Siena is Guidone set * 

Forehead on hand ; a painful birth must be 

Matured ere Saint Eufemia's sacristy 

Or transept gather fruits of one great gaze 580 

At the moon : look you ! The same orange haze, — 

The same blue stripe round that — and, in the midst 

Thy spectral whiteness, Mother-maid, who didst 

Pursue the dizzy painter ! 

Woe, then, worth 
Any officious babble letting forth 
The leprosy confirmed and ruinous 
To spirit lodged in a contracted house ! 
Go back to the beginning, rather ; blend 
It gently with Sordello's life ; the end 
Is piteous, you may see, but much between 590 

Pleasant enough. Meantime, some pyx to screen 
The full-grown pest, some lid to shut upon 
The goblin ! So they found at Babylon, 2 
(Colleagues, mad Lucius and sage Antonine) 
Sacking the city, by Apollo's shrine, 
In rummaging among the rarities, 
A certain coffer ; he who made the prize 
Opened it greedily ; and out there curled 
Just such another plague, for half the world 
Was stung. Crawl in then, hag, and couch asquat, 600 
Keeping that blotchy bosom thick in spot 
Until your time is ripe ! The coffer-lid 
Is fastened, and the coffer safely hid 
Under the Loxian's choicest gifts of gold. 3 

581. Moon] noon-sun. The same] An . . . 596.] Its pride, 
in rummaging the rarities — A cabinet. 

be Guidone, and is no doubt Giovanni Pisano, the son and apt 
pupil of Niccola (D.). 

1 In the church of S. Domenico at Siena there is a picture of 
a Virgin and child enthroned. Some hold that the work, though 
it bears this printer's name (with some letters erased) is too good 
to have been done at so early a period (1221), which is also marked 
on the picture (D) . 

2 The legend is related by Ammianus Marcellinus of the sack of 
Apollo's shrine at Seleucia by the Roman General Verus and the 
Philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius. 

3 Apollo was known by the epithet Loxian as being the in- 
terpreter of Zeus. Sordello regarded himself as the interpreter 
of knowledge to mankind. 



70 



S0RDELL0 



Book I Who will may hear Sordello's story told, 
And how he never could remember when 
He dwelt not at Goito. Calmly, then, 
About this secret lodge of Adelaide's 
Glided his youth away ; beyond the glades 
On the fir-forest border, and the rim 610 

Of the low range of mountain, was for him 
Sordello's No other world : but this appeared his own 
child- jo wander through at pleasure and alone, 
hood The castle too seemed empty ; far and wide 
Might he disport ; only the northern side 
Lay under a mysterious interdict — x 
Slight, just enough remembered to restrict 
His roaming to the corridors, the vault 
Where those font-bearers expiate their fault, 
The maple-chamber, and the little nooks 620 

And nests, and breezy parapet that looks 
Over the woods to Mantua : there he strolled. 
Some foreign women-servants, very old, 
Tended and crept about him — all his clue 
To the world's business and embroiled ado 
Distant a dozen hill-tops at the most. 
And first a simple sense of life engrossed 
Sordello in his drowsy Paradise ; 
The day's adventures for the day suffice — 

His de- its constant tribute of perceptions strange, 630 

develop- with sleep and stir in healthy interchange, 

(ifper- Suffice, and leave him for the next at ease 

ception Like the great palmer-worm that strips the trees, 
Eats the life out of every luscious plant, 
And, when September finds them sere or scant, 
Puts forth two wondrous winglets, alters quite, 
And hies him after unforeseen delight. 2 

612. this] that. 615. only] unless. 

1 That is the portion used by Taurello Salinguerra when he 
came to the castle, was forbidden to Sordello by Adelaide for 
fear of a meeting and possible recognition between father and 
son. 

2 " These are a sort of hairy caterpillars, which in England 
have the name of Palmer Worm, because they wander from place 
to place, like Palmers or Pilgrims : some call them bear-worms, 
because they are all over hair, and others Millers, but for what 
reason is uncertain. Many of these feed on all sorts of greens 
indifferently, though some of them do not (Buffon, Nat. Hist 



SORDELLO 



7i 



So fed Sordello, not a shard dissheathed ; 

As ever, round each new discovery, wreathed 

Luxuriantly the fancies infantine 640 

His admiration, bent on making fine 

Its novel friend at any risk, would fling 

In gay profusion forth : a ficklest king, 

Confessed those minions ! — eager to dispense 

So much from his own stock of thought and sense 

As might enable each to stand alone 

And serve him for a fellow ; with his own, 

Joining the qualities that just before 

Had graced some older favourite. Thus they wore 

A fluctuating halo, yesterday 650 

Set flicker and to-morrow filched away, — 

Those upland objects each of separate name, 

Each with an aspect never twice the same, 

Waxing and waning as the new-born host 

Of fancies, like a single night's hoar-frost, 

Gave to familiar things a face grotesque ; 

Only, preserving through the mad burlesque 

A grave regard. Conceive ! the orpine patch 

Blossoming earliest on the log-house thatch 

The day those archers wound along the vines — 660 

Related to the Chief that left their lines 

To climb with clinking step the northern stair 

Up to the solitary chambers where 

Sordello never came. 1 Thus thrall reached thrall ; 

He o'er-festooning every interval, 

As the adventurous spider, making light 

Of distance, shoots her threads from depth to height, 

From barbican to battlement : so flung 

Fantasies forth and in their centre swung 

Our architect, — the breezy morning fresh 670 

Above, and merry, — all his waving mesh 

Laughing with lucid dew-drops rainbow-edged. 

649. Thus] So. 659. on the] on our. 

Insects). Commonly known as " woolly-bears " : the caterpillar 
of the tiger-moth. Cf. Keats, St Agnes' s Eve : 

" Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes 
As are the tiger moths' deep-damasked wings." 
1 Sordello found analogies between the most diverse objects; 
nothing came amiss to his powers of invention and imagination. 
Stonecrop is the common species of orpine. 



Book I 



(ii) Im- 
agination 



Sordello's . 
imagina- 
tion 



72 SORDELLO 

Book I This world of ours by tacit pact is pledged 
To laying such a spangled fabric low 
Whether by gradual brush or gallant blow. 
But its abundant will was baulked here : doubt 
Rose tardily in one so fenced about 
From most that nurtures judgment, — care and pain : 
Judgment, that dull expedient we are fain, 
Less favoured, to adopt betimes and force 680 

Stead us, diverted from our natural course 
Of joys — contrive some yet amid the dearth, 
Vary and render them, it may be, worth 

His in- Most we forego. Suppose Sordello hence 

nocence Selfish enough, without a moral sense 

However feeble ; what informed the boy 

Others desired a portion in his joy ? 

Or say a ruthful chance broke woof and warp — 

A heron's nest beat down by March winds sharp, 

A fawn breathless beneath the precipice, 690 

A bird with unsoiled breast and unfilmed eyes 

Warm in the brake — could these undo the trance 

Lapping Sordello ? Not a circumstance 

That makes for you, friend Naddo 1 ! Eat fern-seed 2 

And peer beside us and report indeed 

If (your word) " genius " dawned with throes and 

stings 
And the whole fiery catalogue, while springs, 
Summers, and winters quietly came and went. 
Time put at length that period to content, 
By right the worldshould have imposed : bereft 700 
Of its good officesfSordello, left 
To study his companions, managed rip 
Their fringe off, learn the true relationship, 
Core with its crust, their nature with his own : 
Amid his wild-wood sights he lived alone. 
Self-con- As if the poppy felt with him !J Though he 

scious- ~ ' ' S 

ness 676. baulked] balked. 699. Time put] Putting. 

1 Naddo (one of the Trouveres or Troubadours) stands for the 
embodiment of common sense and worldly wisdom, to whom 
such as Sordello was a perpetual enigma. His idea of genius 
as born " with throes and stings " was contradicted by Sordello's 
placid childhood. 

% Compare 1 Henry IV., Act II. Sc. i. 105 : " We have the 
receipt of fern-seed, we walk invisible." 



SORDELLO 73 

Partook the poppy's red effrontery Book I 

Till Autumn spoiled their fleering quite with rain, 
And, turbanless, a coarse brown rattling crane 
Lay bare. That's gone : yet why renounce, for that, 710 
His disenchanted tributaries — flat 
Perhaps, but scarce so utterly forlorn, 
Their simple presence might not well be borne 
Whose parley was a transport once : recall 
The poppy's gifts, it flaunts you, after all, 
A poppy : — why distrust the evidence 
Of each soon satisfied and healthy sense ? 
The new-born judgment answered, " little boots 
" Beholding other creatures' attributes 
" And having none ! " or, say that it sufficed, 720 

" Yet, could one but possess, oneself," (enticed 
Judgment) " some special office ! " Nought beside 
Serves you ? " Well then, be somehow justified 
" For this ignoble wish to circumscribe 
" And concentrate, rather than swell, the tribe 
" Of actual pleasures : what, now, from without Desire 

Effects it ? — proves, despite a lurking doubt, *?* 

" Mere sympathy sufficient, trouble spared ? 
" That, tasting joys by proxy thus, you fared 1 
" The better for them ? " Thus much craved his 
soul. 730 

708. spoiled] spoils. 710. Lay bare] Protrudes. 713. 
might] may. 729. That . . . you] He tasted joys by proxy, 
clearly fared. 

1 With time came self-consciousness, and with self-conscious- 
ness came loneliness. Yet though the gilding is torn from 
nature, the sense of purpose and evidence of design remains. 
What, then is, the purpose of his own life ? Even at this early 
stage Sordello perceives the need for action and the danger of 
contentments with triumphs that cost nothing. 

Compare with lines 699-705 Wordsworth's treatment of 
the same idea : 

" Heaven lies about us in our infancy ! 



The youth who daily further from the East 

Must travel still is nature's priest. 

And by the vision splendid 

Is on his way attended. 

At length the Man perceives it die away 

And fade into the light of common day." 

(Intim. of Immort.) 



74 SORDELLO 

Book I Alas, from the beginning love is whole 

And true ; if sure of nought beside, most sure 
Of its own truth at least ; nor may endure 
A crowd to see its face, that cannot know 
How hot the pulses throb its heart below : 
While its own helplessness and utter want 
Power of Of means to worthily be ministrant 
Love Xo what it worships, do but fan the more 
Its flame, exalt the idol far before 
Itself as it would have it ever be. 740 

Souls like Sordello, on the contrary, 
Coerced and put to shame, retaining will, 
Care little, take mysterious comfort still, 
But look forth tremblingly to ascertain 
If others judge their claims not urged in vain, 
And say for them their stifled thoughts aloud. 
So, they must ever live before a crowd : 
— " Vanity," Naddo tells you. 1 

Where contrive 
A crowd now ? From these women just alive, 
That archer-troop ? Forth glided — not alone 750 

Each painted warrior, every girl of stone, 
Nor Adelaide (bent double o'er a scroll, 
One maiden at her knees, that eve, his soul 
Shook as he stumbled through the arras'd glooms 
On them, for, 'mid quaint robes and weird perfumes, 
Started the meagre Tuscan up, — her eyes, 
The maiden's, also, bluer with surprise) 
— But the entire out-world : whatever, scraps 
And snatches, song and story, dreams perhaps, 
Conceited the world's offices, and he 760 

Had hitherto transferred to flower or tree, 

740. would have it ever be] would ever have it be. 746. 
And say] Will say . . . 749. From these women] These brave 
women . . . 761.] Transferred to the first comer, flower or tree. 

1 It is the natural love of a child for its parents that usually 
modifies the individualism of early manhood with a feeling of 
duty and a certain willing self-sacrifice. This Sordello never 
knew, and in consequence his egotism was unchecked. Absence 
from the world kept him from the other influence which teaches 
most men to find their level, while his inventive brain supplied 
him with just what was worst for him, an audience debarred 
[ from criticism. This, with such as Sordello, is not mere vanity, 
L but rather the creative instinct which will not be repressed. 



SORDELLO 75 

Not counted a befitting heritage Book I 

Each, of its own right, singly to engage 
Some man, no other, — such now dared to stand 
Alone. Strength, wisdom, grace on every hand 
Soon disengaged themselves, and he discerned 
A sort of human life : at least, was turned His 

A stream of lifelike figures through his brain. audience 

Lord, liegeman, valvassor and suzerain, 
Ere he could choose, surrounded him ; a stuff 770 

To work his pleasure on ; there, sure enough : 
But as for gazing, what shall fix that gaze * ? 
Are they to simply testify the ways 
He who convoked them sends his soul along 
With the cloud's thunder or a dove's brood-song ? 
— While they live each his life, boast each his own 
Peculiar dower of bliss, stand each alone 
In some one point where something dearest loved 
Is easiest gained — far worthier to be proved 
Than aught he envies in the forest-wights ! 780 

No simple and self-evident delights, 
But mixed desires of unimagined range, 
Contrasts or combinations, new and strange, 
Irksome perhaps, yet plainly recognized 
By this, the sudden company — loves prized 
By those who are to prize his own amount 
Of loves. 2 Once care because such make account, 
Allow that foreign recognitions stamp 

The current value, and his crowd shall vamp Appreci- 

Him counterfeits enough ; and so their print 790 ative but 

un- 

764. dared] availed. 78S. that] a. 789. his . . . him] your critical 

. . you. 

1 Sordello having evolved his new world of men and women, 
each endowed with their own peculiar powers, is faced by the 
question what relation are they to bear to him and he to them ? 
How is he to fix their gaze upon himself and reveal himself to 
each several individual as their own special ideal ? By deserting 
himself to live in each in turn, he will only obtain whatever 
share of applause may fall to the character he for the time 
represents, and what he wants is the quintessence of all. 

2 Sordello has in his mind an ideal of greatness far beyond 
anything he has yet conceived and bestowed upon any of his 
creations, which is to be a combination of every kind of joy — a 
quintessence of all joys — -by means of which he will become the 
centre of the world's envy and applause. 



76 SORDELLO 

Book I Be on the piece, 'tis gold, attests the mint, 

And " good," pronounce they whom his new appeal 

Is made to : if their casual print conceal — 

This arbitrary good of theirs o'ergloss 

What he has lived without, nor felt the loss — 

Qualities strange, ungainly, wearisome, 

— What matter 1 ? So must speech expand the dumb 

Part-sigh, part-smile with which Sordello, late 

Whom no poor woodland-sights could satiate, 

Betakes himself to study hungrily 800 

Just what the puppets his crude phantasy 

Supposes notablest,— popes, kings, priests, knights, — 

May please to promulgate for appetites ; 

Accepting all their artificial joys 

Not as he views them, but as he employs 

Each shape to estimate the other's stock 

Of attributes, whereon — a marshalled flock 

Of authorized enjoyments— he may spend 

Himself, be men, now, as he used to blend 

With tree and flower — nay more entirely, else 810 

'T were mockery : for instance, " How excels 

" My life that chieftain's ? " (who apprised the youth 

Ecelin, here, becomes this month, in truth, 

Imperial Vicar ?) " Turns he in his tent 

" Remissly ? Be it so — my head is bent 

" Deliriously amid my girls to sleep. 

" What if he stalks the Trentine-pass ? Yon steep 

" I climbed an hour ago with little toil : 

" We are alike there. But can I, too, foil 

" The Guelf's paid stabber, carelessly afford 820 

" Saint Mark's a spectacle, the sleight o' the sword 

" Baffling the treason in a moment 2 ? " Here 

795. He] I. 807. Whereon] that on . . . 822. the treason] 
their project. 

1 Sordello has a far-away idea that merely to applaud the good 
without criticizing the bad is unnatural. But criticism would 
be unpleasant, and after all though he may be conscious of weak- 
ness, there is no need for the painful process of improvement. 

2 The story is given is Sismondi : Ecelin and Azzo, meeting at 
the court of Otho IV., the former accused the latter of attempt- 
ing to assassinate him. " We were together at Venice, and I 
was walking with him in La Place de Saint Marc, when some 
assassins flung themselves upon me to stab me : at this moment 



SORDELLO 77 

No rescue ! Poppy he is none, but peer Book I 

To Ecelin, assuredly : his hand, 

Fashioned no otherwise, should wield a brand 

With Ecelin's success — try, now ! He soon Physical 

Was satisfied, returned as to the moon weakness 

From earth ; left each abortive boy's-attempt 

For feats, from failure happily exempt, 

In fancy at his beck. 1 " One day I will 830 

" Accomplish it ! Are they not older still 

" — Not grown-up men and women ? Tis beside 

" Only a dream ; and though I must abide 

" With dreams now, I may find a thorough vent 

" For all myself, acquire an instrument 

" For acting what these people act ; my soul 

" Hunting a body out may gain its whole 

" Desire some day ! " How else express chagrin 

And resignation, show the hope steal in 

With which he let sink from an aching wrist 840 

The rough-hewn ash-bow ? Straight, a gold shaft 

hissed 
Into the Syrian air, struck Malek down 

Superbly ! " Crosses to the breach ! God's Town A Bayard 

" Is gained him back ! " Why bend rough ash-bows inimagin- 

more 2 ? ation - 

Thus lives he : if not careless as before, 
Comforted : for one may anticipate, 
Rehearse the future, be prepared when fate 
Shall have prepared in turn real men whose names 
Startle, real places of enormous fames, 
Este abroad and Ecelin at home 850 

To worship him, — Mantua, Verona, Rome 

837. may gain] obtain. 841. Straight, a] and a . . . 844. 
Is] was . . . 851. Mantua, Verona,] Mantuas Veronas . . . 

the Marquis seized my arm to prevent me defending myself, and 
had I not torn myself from him by a violent effort, I should with- 
out a doubt have been killed, as one of my soldiers who was 
beside me actually was " (Hist. Rep. Itai. Bk. ii. c. xiii.). It is 
also related by Verci and others. 

1 The one point where failure had to be admitted was physical 
strength. He excuses himself on the score of age. 

8 How infinitely easier are victories won mentally rather than 
by actual physical effort ! A feeble boy, but a very Bayard in 
imagination ! 



78 SORDELLO 

Book I To witness it. 1 (Who grudges time so spent ? 
Time will Rather test qualities to heart's content — 
show Summon them, thrice selected, near and far — 
Compress the starriest into one star, 
And grasp the whole at once \J 

The pageant thinned 
Accordingly ; from rank to rank, like wind 
His spirit passed to winnow and divide ; 
Back fell the simpler phantasms ; every side 
The strong clave to the wise ; with either classed 86a 
The beauteous ; so, till two or three amassed 
Mankind's beseemingnesses, and reduced 
Themselves eventually, — graces loosed, 
Strengths lavished, — all to heighten up One Shape 
Whose potency no creature should escape. 
Apollo Can it be Friedrich of the bowmen's talk ? 

Surely that grape-juice, bubbling at the stalk, 

Is some grey scorching Saracenic wine 

The Kaiser quaffs with the Miramoline 2 — 

Those swarthy hazel-clusters, seamed and chapped, 870 

Or filberts russet-sheathed and velvet-capped, 

Are dates plucked from the bough John Brienne sent 

To keep in mind his sluggish armament 

Of Canaan 3 : — Friedrich 's, all the pomp and fierce 

Demeanour ! But harsh sounds and sights transpierce 

So rarely the serene cloud where he dwells 

Whose looks enjoin, whose lightest words are spells 

On the obdurate ! That right arm indeed 

856. And] so. 864. Strengths lavished] and lavished strengths, 
to heighten . . . 878. right] omitted. 

1 One of Sordello's pet delusions was the idea that if you 
could conceive how a thing should be done you could do it 
whenever the opportunity came. Though he was forced to 
acknowledge that the reasoning broke down in regard to physi- 
cal efforts, he never would admit that it could fail in any other 
way, and in consequence he believed himself capable of almost 
any task, from governing the world downwards. This was, of 
course, due to want of experience, and ignorance of human 
nature. 

2 A Saracenic title — Prince of the Faithful. Browning pro- 
bably drew the words from the Chronicon Estense, where, 
alluding to the expulsion of the Moors from Spain in the year 
1224, the passage occurs, " tunc temporis potentia Regis Africse, 
qui dicitur Miramolinus," etc. 

a See 1. 195. 



SORDELLO 79 

Has thunder for its slave ; but where's the need Book I 

Of thunder if the stricken multitude 880 

Hearkens, arrested in its angriest mood, 

While songs go up exulting, then dispread, 

Dispart, disperse, lingering overhead 

Like an escape of angels ? 'T is the tune, 

Nor much unlike the words his women croon 

Smilingly, colourless and faint-designed 

Each, as a worn-out queen's face some remind 

Of her extreme youth's love-tales. " Eglamor 

" Made that ! " Half minstrel and half emperor, 

What but ill objects vexed him ? Such he slew. 890 

The kinder sort were easy to subdue His feats 

By those ambrosial glances, dulcet tones ; as ApoU 

And these a gracious hand advanced to thrones 

Beneath him. Wherefore twist and torture this, 

Striving to name afresh the antique bliss, 

Instead of saying, neither less nor more, 

He had discovered, as our world before, 

Apollo ? That shall be the name ; nor bid 

Me rag by rag expose how patchwork hid 

The youth — what thefts of every clime and day 900 

Contributed to purfle the array 

He climbed with (June at deep) some close ravine 

Mid clatter of its million pebbles sheen, 

Over which, singing soft, the runnel slipped 

Elate with rains : into whose streamlet dipped 

He foot, yet trod, you thought, with unwet sock — 

Though really on the stubs of living rock 

Ages ago it crenelled ; vines for roof, 

Lindens for wall ; before him, aye aloof, 

Flittered in the cool some azure damsel-fly. 1 910 

Born of the simmering quiet, there to die. 

Emerging whence, Apollo still, he spied 

Mighty descents of forest ; multiplied 

900. The youth] the man. 908. crenelled] crenneled (1840 
and 1863 Eds.). 911. Born] Child . . . 

1 Dragon-fly : French " demoiselle." The banks of the Mincio 
at Goito are frequented by a small dragon-fly with deep azure 
wings and a lovely sapphire body. In their flight they do not 
dart, but use their wings like butterfles : Browning's word 
" flitter " is a very happy description. The reading of revised 
edition " Born " for " Child," is preferable. 



80 SORDELLO 

Book I Tuft on tuft, here, the frolic myrtle-trees, 

There gendered the grave maple stocks at ease. 

And, proud of its observer, straight the wood 

Tried old surprises on him ; black it stood 

A sudden barrier ('twas a cloud passed o'er) 

So dead and dense, the tiniest brute no more 

Must pass ; yet presently (the cloud dispatched) 920 

Each clump, behold, was glistering detached 

A shrub, oak-boles shrunk into ilex-stems ! 

Yet could not he denounce the stratagems 

He saw thro', till, hours thence, aloft would hang 

White summer-lightnings ; as it sank and sprang 

To measure, that whole palpitating breast 

Of heaven, 'twas Apollo, 1 nature prest 

At eve to worship. 

Time stole r by degrees 
The Pythons perish off 2 ; his votaries 
Sink to respectful distance ; songs redeem 930 

Their pains, but briefer ; their dismissals seem 
Emphatic ; only girls are very slow 
To disappear — his Delians ! Some that glow 
O' the instant, more with earlier loves to wrench 
Away, reserves to quell, disdains to quench ; 
Alike in one material circumstance — 
All soon or late adore Apollo ! Glance 
The bevy through, divine Apollo's choice, 
His Daphne ! " We secure Count Richard's voice 
" In Este's counsels, good for Este's ends 940 

Gossip " As our Taurello," say his faded friends, 

" By granting him our Palma ! " — the sole child, 
They mean, of Agnes Este who beguiled 
Ecelin, years before this Adelaide 

921. behold] forsooth. 926. To measure] In measure. 929. 
period] perished. 930. Sink] sunk. 939. His Daphne] A Daphne. 
940. good for] one for. 

1 Apollo, the Greek god, was the type of masculine beauty in 
body and mind. He fell in love with Daphne, who fled from 
him, and to escape him was turned into a laurel, after which 
Apollo always wore a laurel wreath. He also slew a monstrous 
serpent which haunted the caves of Parnassus and was known as 
the Python. His chief shrine was at Delos, where the priestesses 
worshipped him. Sordello's Delians did the same, as his ima- 
gined Daphne fled from him also (see Bk. ii. 15 ff.). 

2 That is, as he got older his imaginary victories grew less. 



SORDELLO 81 

Wedded and turned him wicked : " but the maid Book I 

*' Rejects his suit," those sleepy women boast. 

She, scorning all beside, deserves the most 

Sordello x : so, conspicuous in his world 

Of dreams sat Palma. How the tresses curled 

Into a sumptuous swell of gold and wound 950 

About her like a glory ! even the ground 

Was bright as with spilt sunbeams ; breathe not, breathe 

Not ! — poised, see, one leg doubled underneath, 

Its small foot buried in the dimpling snow, Picture 

Rests, but the other, listlessly below, of Palma 

O'er the couch-side swings feeling for cool air, 

The vein-streaks swollen a richer violet where 

The languid blood lies heavily ; yet calm 

On her slight prop, each flat and outspread palm, 

As but suspended in the act to rise 960 

By consciousness of beauty, whence her eyes 

Turn with so frank a triumph, for she meets 

Apollo's gaze in the pine glooms. 

Time fleets : 
That's worst ! Because the pre-appointed age 
Approaches. Fate is tardy with the stage 
And crowd she promised. Lean he grows and pale, 
Though restlessly at rest. Hardly avail 
Fancies to soothe him. Time steals, yet alone 
He tarries here ! The earnest smile is gone. 
How long this might continue matters not ; 970 

— For ever, possibly ; since to the spot Historical 

None come : our lingering Taurello quits thread 

Mantua at last, and light our lady flits : resumea 

Back to her place disburthened of a care. 
Strange — to be constant here if he is there 2 ! 
Is it distrust ? Oh, never ! for they both 
Goad Ecelin alike, Romano's growth 
Is daily manifest, with Azzo dumb 

952. spilt] shed. 957. Swollen] Swoln (1840 and 1863 Eds.)- 
966. And crowd] She all but . . . 977- Is] so . . . that . . . 

1 This proved to be true in the future : at present it was only 
an egotistic guess. This gossip about Palma gets mixed up 
with the Daphne ideal in Sordello's mind, and produces a hybrid 
personage called the forest lady. 

2 Sordello, in capacity as page, would follow Adelaide, and she 
feared his meeting his father. 



82 SORDELLO 

Book I And Richard wavering : let but Friedrich come, 

Find matter for the minstrelsy's report 980 

— Lured from the Isle 1 and its young Kaiser's court 

To sing us a Messina morning up, 

And, double rillet of a drinking cup, 

Sparkle along to ease the land of drouth, 

Northward to Provence that, and thus far south 

The other ! What a method to apprise 

Neighbours of births, espousals, obsequies, 

Which in their very tongue the Troubadour 

Records ! and his performance makes a tour, 

For Trouveres bear the miracle about, 990 

Explain its cunning to the vulgar rout, 

Until the Formidable House is famed 

Over the country — as Taurello aimed, 

Who introduced, although the rest adopt, 

The novelty. 2 Such games, her absence stopped, 

Begin afresh now Adelaide, recluse 

No longer, in the light of day pursues 

Her plans at Mantua : whence an accident 

Which, breaking on Sordello's mixed content 

Opened, like any flash that cures the blind, 1000 

The veritable business of mankind. 

983. And, double rillet] Who, double rillets . . . 995. Such 
games] Their games ... 

1 Sicily, where Frederick II. was brought up and had his court. 

2 The troubadours were Provencal in origin, and here said to 
be introduced into Italy for political purposes by Taurello. 
The part played by the trouveres would be to announce the 
coming performance and incidentally enlarge upon the theme 
— the glories of the Imperial House. Sismondi tells us it was 
Azzo of Este, Taurello's rival, who introduced them to Ferrara 
(Lit. ofS. Europe, vol. i. 163). Browning makes no clear distinction 
in his use of " troubadour " and " trouvere " throughout the 
poem. The distinction is not easy to make. With some it is 
held to be geographical, the former being of Provencal and the 
latter of Northern French origin. With others it is (as here) 
one of degree : the troubadour being the courtly knight who 
composed, the trouveres being his attendants, who sang his 
" treuves." With others the distinction is one of style : the 
troubadours retaining the musical element, and thus becoming 
the forerunners perhaps of opera; the trouveres discarding 
music and becoming the forerunners of modern lifterature. 
Similarly, Browning mixes the French forms of troubadour 
songs such as " the rondel " and the " virlai " with the Provencal 
forms, such as the "tenzon" and "sirvente." 



BOOK II 



INTRODUCTION 

(i) The second book of Sordello continues the story 
without intermission, recording Sordello's first contact 
with the outside world, his unexpected triumph, and 
subsequent disillusionment. 

The narrative is briefly this — pursuing his rambles 
through the woods adjacent to the castle, his imagina- 
tion still afire with his dreams of kingship as Apollo, 
with which, however, is blended a new thought, his 
sudden appearance in the world as the successful rival 
of Count Boniface for the love of Palma, Ecelin's daughter 
(an idea which has its germ in the gossip of the old 
domestics in the castle), he suddenly stumbles on a crowd 
assembled without the walls of Mantua, where Adelaide 
is holding a Court of Love for the appointment of a 
minstrel to Palma. He arrives just as Eglamor, the 
best troubadour of Boniface, is about to begin his song, 
" Elys " as he calls it after the heroine. Sordello listens, 
in amazement, for is it not the story of Apollo badly 
told ? Stung into sudden activity, Sordello, as the song 
closes, leaps upon the platform and, seizing the singer's 
lute, " tells the true tale with the true end." When the 
effort is made, he faints, but not before he realizes his 
victory and his election as Palma's minstrel. He is 
borne back to Goito unconscious. For a time he remains 
at Goito, where one day he is present at Eglamor's 
funeral, whose heart was broken by his defeat. Then at 
the invitation of Naddo he leaves his beloved Goito for 
Mantua to fulfil his duties as troubadour. At this 
point the thread of the story is broken to describe 
Sordello's success and failure as a minstrel at Mantua 
during the next ten years. It is resumed at the close 
of that time by an account of the death of Adelaide and 
Taurello's headlong return from Naples (where he was 
just about to embark on Frederick's long-promised 
crusade), too late, however, to prevent a second cata- 

85 



86 SORDELLO 

strophe for the Imperial cause in Ecelin's sudden retire- 
ment into a monastery at Oliero. At this point the 
second book comes to an end. 

(2) When Sordello came to himself after his victory 
in the Tournament of Song, he for the first time began 
to think. Having analysed the whole circumstances, he 
came to the conclusion, not without some surprise, that 
he must be an exceptionally gifted individual. The 
lack in others of the power which he himself possessed 
in so high a degree, of visualizing the creatures of his 
imagination until they appeared more real than the 
material world around him, struck him with amazement. 
This difference from other men became accentuated by 
the scene at Eglamor's graveside, when he reflected upon 
that poet's success and failure, for he saw how Eglamor, 
clinging to success, a man with talent but no genius, 
had missed the true aim of his vocation and thought 
only of himself instead of others. For a moment at 
any rate Sordello saw clearly. The snare of popularity 
and success, the danger of mistaking conventional 
notions of truth for truth itself, the greatness of his 
task if only he could " to his own self be true," rose 
clearly before him. But the mists of triumphs "of 
unimagined range" quickly enveloped him again, and 
the truth once more becomes obscured in those gorgeous 
dream-clouds of his, shot with all the colours of imagina- 
tion. There were two points, however, on his mental 
horizon which, in spite of his utmost efforts, refused to 
be hidden, two awkward facts that spoilt the whole 
landscape. The first of these was his physical weakness. 
In the field of action he could never excel, nor even 
compete. This he was obliged to admit. The second 
point emerged when he started to investigate his own 
history — " alas, they soon explained away Apollo." 
Here he learnt the story of his birth as generally ac- 
cepted, how he was the son of an archer who had sacri- 
ficed his life in the service of the house of Romano, and 
had been adopted and brought up by Adelaide for his 
father's sake. Yet so strong was Sordello's belief in 
himself and his powers that, in spite of these two draw- 
backs, the one of which must debar him from the normal 
road to advancement in that age — military prowess, — 
and the other deprive him of that most powerful lever. 



SORDELLO 87 

— influence, due to rank and position — he yet held firm 
to his purpose, convinced that even now — 

"men no more 
Compete with him than tree and flower before.' " 

(3) In the interval between the scene at Eglamor's 
graveside and his return to Mantua, Sordello busies 
himself with elaborating his plan of action and method 
of procedure. He decides that his medium of expression 
must be song, through which he is to accomplish his 
great task. It is not altogether easy to put Sordello's 
ideal into words, but it may perhaps be described as an 
attempt to reveal man to himself through the display 
of his own (i.e. Sordello's) personality expressed in song. 
It is hard to decide how far this purpose was a noble 
one and how far it was tainted with inordinate vanity, 
love of display, and greed of appreciation. If, however, 
we give him credit for honesty, his point of view would 
seem to have been somewhat of this nature : his 
ultimate object was the raising of mankind ; but he had 
already observed that men followed a multitude of 
different ideals, each "bending to his star," and con- 
centrating himself upon a single object. Now he was 
conscious that he himself was myriad-minded, able to 
appreciate and sympathize with the most contradictory 
ideals. He was led by no one star. Through this 
peculiar faculty, then, he thought he would be able in 
song to show to all men the best of which each was 
capable and help to raise them to their highest level. 

(4) While this side of Sordello's plan was altruistic, 
concerned mainly with the good of mankind, he con- 
ceived that he himself would receive from its execution 
a glorious reward, for the unstinted homage of mankind 
would be his, for man would find in him the combined 
perfections of humanity. In order that he might miss 
nothing of this consummation of joy, he resolves to 
forego all single and isolated joys lest the quintessence 
should be spoiled. In the matter of happiness, Sordello 
is truly an epicure. For him no common vintage, 
however highly esteemed, but a distillation of all, whose 
bouquet will be unsurpassable. The radical weakness 
of the whole conception is that it is built up on the 
postulate that the world will accept the creations of his 



88 SORDELLO 

fancy as solid facts. Sordello is the realization of the 
Hegelian dictum that Thought is Being. Sordello 
believes that what he conceives himself to be, he is ; 
and that the world will see this also, and therefore 
transfer to him all the admiration which they lavish 
upon his heroes. That they will see in him the incar- 
nation of wisdom, strength, and beauty because he 
endows with these qualities the leading actors of his 
songs. In this way he completely neutralizes those 
physical deficiencies which unfortunately were indis- 
putable, for the minstrel who to himself was Apollo is 
characterized by the crowd as " ugly, stunted, weak ! " 
Neither of the two conditions essential to the success 
of his plans were realized. His own part of it was a 
failure because he proved too weak to resist the praise 
of the few and found himself shamefully hankering after 
the homage of the crowd, unable to forego the small 
present for the greater future to fall upon him some- 
time. The other condition was an even more con- 
spicuous failure, for the people never gave him credit 
for the qualities even of his meanest hero, much less 
transferred to him as he expected those of all his separate 
heroes combined. 

Browning, criticizing Sordello's attitude, points out 
that this overwhelming self-conceit, " vanity " as the 
crowd calls it, is really the want of love. If a man 
cannot throw his whole self into some great ideal beside 
which his very best seems paltry, all that is left to him 
is to worship the best he knows, which is his own en- 
endowments. Thus the opposite of self-consecration and 
self-sacrifice is self-worship. As a lover conceives that 
the whole world views the object of his love with his 
own eyes, so the man without love thinks that the 
world should esteem his greatness as highly as he does 
himself. Sordello's self-revealment, which is the keyword 
to the first half of the poem, is based on this idea. It 
is because he has no " oversoul," no " outsoul " in 
Palma's phrase, upon which to consecrate his gifts, and 
through which to learn of something greater than him- 
self, that he worships and demands that the world shall 
worship the greatest thing he knows — his own soul. 

(5) So Sordello returns to Mantua to begin his great 
wprk. And now for the first time he encounters the 



SORDELLO 89 

practical difficulties arising in part from his own limita- 
tions, but still more from those of his listeners. The first 
lesson he was forced to learn was that to earn apprecia- 
tion he had to make himself understood. It was one 
thing to sing to " Ms Delians," whose praise was a fore- 
gone conclusion, and quite another to hold an audience 
of ignorant men and women. So first his matter had 
to be readjusted : he must leave his " unreal pageantry 
of essences " and sing the romances understanded of 
the people. Then again his language had to be 
simplified, a vocabulary " hammered out," which would 
be a fit and worthy medium of expression. Difficulties 
no end cropped up on the merely technical side of his 
art. His prize-song had been the outcome of one of 
those white-hot moments in which, under a sudden 
overwhelming inspiration, the difficulties of form and 
matter are for the time being swept aside ; but to sing 
songs daily without waiting for the inspired moment 
required art as well as genius. All of this proved very 
discouraging, but he had far greater difficulties and 
disappointments in store for him, arising from his own 
weaknesses. For instance, he found himself aiming at 
popularity and in danger of pandering to the popular 
taste, deserting his ideals for praise and adulation. 
Then again he found that, in spite of all his efforts, his 
audience never transferred their allegiance from his 
heroes to their creator, himself. His listeners, it is true, 
gave him unstinted admiration : they could not conceive 

" How a mere singer, ugly, stunted, weak 
Had Montfort at completely (so to speak) 
His finger ends — " 

Yet even this was not without its sting, for Sordello 
bitterly realized that, though they admired his skill, the 
greatness of his personality and will was completely lost 
on them, and this ruined his plan of raising them through 
self-revealment. But his difficulty was still greater 
when he came into closer contact with Naddo and the 
rest of the guild, representing the intelligent portion of 
the community, in daily conversation. With their 
narrow outlook, accepted opinions, and conventional 
ideas, their mental equipment was the very antithesis 
pf Sordello's, They plied him with difficulties and 



go SORDELLO 

conundrums which he was hopelessly ill-equipped to try 
and solve, and ta which he could only reply either in 
vague generalities or by giving vent to the first answer 
that came to hand, regardless of its truth. Contact 
with humanity, instead of clarifying his ideas, seemed, 
only to make confusion worse confounded. The fact 
was that Sordello understood neither himself nor the 
people, and they understood him even less. With his 
complete want of experience ; his ignorance of human 
nature, and his ill-digested mass of general ideas em- 
broidered with fictions and fancies, he could find no 
point of contact with his audience. Matters were still 
further complicated by the fact that just that very 
quality of sympathy with an infinite variety of natures 
which in his own scheme was to be his strong point, 
proved his fundamental weakness. The want of a 
" star," a central conception outside himself, prevented 
all progress. There was no centre to his mental orbit, 
and in consequence the width of its range only made his 
course the more erratic. The effort to try and square 
the facts of life as it was, with his preconceptions as to 
what it ought to be, rent him in twain. The poet clashed 
with the man, the former clinging desperately to the 
wreckage of his ideals, and the latter urging him to 
leave his dreams and lower his level to that of the 
humanity around him, and to be content with the 
prosaic joys of the crowd. It was this conflict which 
brought about the fiasco with which the Book closes. 
The power of song was deserting Sordello. He could 
not sing to order. He tries wildly to find inspiration 
with which to celebrate Taurello's return. Wandering 
forth at night, he suddenly finds himself back in his old- 
time woods at Goito : the dream of his childhood comes 
back upon him ; Mantua with its tasks and disappoint- 
ments fades behind him, and once more the dream 
enwraps him wholly. Let our laurels lie. 

(6) There are several points to be remembered as we 
read the book. It covers a period probably of some ten 
or twelve years. He is a sanguine boy when he first 
goes to Mantua, but a disappointed man when he returns. 
Then we must not underrate his success ; it is necessary 
to recollect that we look at it all the time from the 
high ground of Sordello's own ideal, not from the view- 



SORDELLO 91 

point of the crowd. Had he been content with being 
a popular idol, with supplying the popular demand and 
nothing more, as Naddo and the rest besought him to 
be, it was always his for the asking ; but it was just his 
refusal, his failure, wherein his real success lay hid. 
Like Job of old, it was his determination at all costs to 
hold to his one root-principle, in spite of every failure, 
in spite of the " best advice " from well-meaning friends, 
that kept the spark of greatness glowing within him. 



BOOK THE SECOND 

The woods were long austere with snow : at last Book II 

Pink leaflets budded on the beech, and fast Spring 

Larches, scattered through pine-tree solitudes, 

Brightened, " as in the slumbrous heart o' the woods 

" Our buried year, a witch, grew young again 

" To placid incantations, and that stain 

" About were from her cauldron, green smoke blent 

" With those black pines " — so Eglamor gave vent 

To a chance fancy. Whence a just rebuke 

From his companion ; brother Naddo shook 10 

The solemnest of brows : " Beware," he said, 

" Of setting up conceits in nature's stead ! " 

Forth wandered our Sordello. Nought so sure 

As that to-day's adventure will secure 

Palma the visioned lady 1 — only pass 

O'er yon damp mound and its exhausted grass, 

Under that brake where sundawn feeds the stalks 

Of withered fern with gold, into those walks 

Of pine and take her ! Buoyantly he went. 

Again his stooping forehead was besprent 20 Sordello 

With dew-drops from the skirting ferns. Then wide pursuing 

Opened the great morass, shot every side Daphne- 

With flashing water through and through ; a-shine, Palma 

Thick-steaming, all-alive. Whose shape divine, 

Quivered i' the farthest rainbow-vapour, glanced 

Athwart the flying herons ? He advanced, 

But warily ; though Mincio leaped no more, 

Each foot-fall burst up in the marish-floor 

15. visioned lady] forest-lady. 29. he] you. 

1 Sordello's original conception of Daphne, the nymph pursued 
by Apollo, has got mixed up with the gossip he has heard about 
Palma, Ecelin's daughter, and her rumoured engagement to 
Boniface, and has produced the hybrid conception of Palma the 
forest-lady. The reading of the first edition is preferable. 



94 SORDELLO 

Book II A diamond jet : and if he stopped to pick 

Rose-lichen, or molest the leeches quick, 30 

And circling blood-worms, minnow, newt or loach, 
A sudden pond would silently encroach 
This way and that. 1 On Palma passed. The verge 
Of a new wood was gained. She will emerge 
Flushed, now, and panting, — crowds to see, — will own 
She loves him — Boniface to hear, to goan, 

stumbles Xo leave his suit ! One screen of pine-trees still 
m t° n Opposes : but — the startling spectacle — 
ajl ua Mantua, this time ! Under the walls — a crowd 

Indeed, real men and women, gay and loud 40 

Round a pavilion. How he stood ! 

In truth 
No prophecy had come to pass : his youth 
In its prime now — and where was homage poured 
Upon Sordello ? — born to be adored, 
And suddenly discovered weak, scarce made 
To cope with any, cast into the shade 
By this and this. Yet something seemed to prick 
And tingle in his blood ; a sleight — a trick — 
And much would be explained. 2 It went for nought — 
The best of their endowments were ill bought 50 

With his identity : nay, the conceit, 
That this day's roving led to Palma's feet 
Was not so vain — list ! The word, " Palma ! " Steal 
Aside, and die, Sordello ; this is real, 

52. That this day's roving led . . .] This present roving 
leads . . . 

1 Note the beautiful detail work of this passage. 

2 Sordello's first contact with mankind has a twofold effect. 
It produces on the one hand temporary confusion and a sense 
of weakness, such as would be expected in such a highly sensitized 
nature, while on the other it arouses the deeper feeling of a 
desire to lead, a sense of command, inherent in his character and 
capabilities. Another explanation, however, may be offered, 
that it refers to his unexpressed criticism of the minstrels' per- 
formances, the feeling that, if only he took the trouble to learn 
" the tricks of the trade," he could soon exceed them all — the 
idea of so limiting his scope is dismissed with contempt. The 
objection to this interpretation is that the feeling, whatever it 
signified, comes apparently before he had heard anything in the 
way of the troubadours' songs, and no mention is made of his, 
hearing any except that of Eglarnor which follows. 



SORDELLO 



95 



Egla- 
mor's 
song 



And this — abjure * ! B OOK u 

What next ? The curtains see Adelaide's 
Dividing ! She is there ; and presently Court of 

He will be there — the proper You, at length — Love 

In your own cherished dress of grace and strength : 
Most like, the very Boniface ! 

Not so. 
It was a showy man advance ; but though 60 

A glad cry welcomed him, then every sound 
Sank and the crowd disposed themselves around, 
— " This is not he," SordeUo felt ; while, " Place 
" For the best Troubadour of Boniface ! " 
Hollaed the Jongleurs, — " Eglamor, whose lay 
" Concludes his patron's Court of Love to-day 2 ! " 
Obsequious Naddo strung the master's lute 
With the new lute-string, " Elys," named to suit 
The song : he 3 stealthily at watch, the while, 
Biting his lip to keep down a great smile 70 

Of pride : then up he struck. Sordello's brain 
Swam ; for he knew a sometime deed again ; 
So, could supply each foolish gap and chasm 
The minstrel left in his enthusiasm, 
Mistaking its true version — was the tale 
Not of Apollo ? Only, what avail 
Luring her down, that Elys an he pleased, 
If the man dared no further 4 ? Has he ceased 
And, lo, the people's frank applause half done, 
Sordello was beside him, had begun 80 

1 This is Browning advising Sordello. 

2 " The Court of Love," properly speaking, was formed for 
quite another purpose than that given here. It was composed 
chiefly of married ladies who sat in judgment to legislate on all 
questions of the affections, to arrange disputes between lovers, to 
pass sentence on any lover who was in the wrong, and generally to 
establish a system of love-jurisprudence which should be useful 
in composing quarrels and avoiding recourse to the civil courts. 
Queen Eleanor of England was one of the most famous " Presi- 
dents " of such courts. Browning's conception is more akin to 
the Tournaments of Song of the German Minnesingers. 

3 I.e. Eglamor : El-lys the lily . 
1 Sordello's criticism of Eglamor's song. What is the use, he 

cries, of a half-finished song such as this ? He lures his goddess 
from her heaven and then, afraid of his own temerity, leaves her. 
See lines 213-19. Eglamor's subject-matter was sometimes 
beyond his power to handle adequately. His treatment was 
unworthy of his theme. 



96 SORDELLO 

Book II (Spite of indignant twitchings from his friend 
The Trouvere) the true lay with the true end, 
Sordello's Taking the other's names and time and place 
son g For his. On flew the song, a giddy race, 
After the flying story ; word made leap 
Out word, rhyme — rhyme ; the lay could barely keep 
Pace with the action visibly rushing past : 
Both ended. Back fell Naddo more aghast 
Than some Egyptian from the harassed bull 
That wheeled abrupt and, bellowing, fronted full 90 
His plague, who spied a scarab 'neath the tongue, 
And found 'twas Apis' flank his hasty prong 
Insulted. 1 But the people — but the cries, 
The crowding round, and proffering the prize ! 
— For he had gained some prize. He seemed to shrink 
Into a sleepy cloud, just at whose brink 
One sight withheld him. There sat Adelaide, 
Silent ; but at her knees the very maid 
His Of the North Chamber, her red lips as rich, 
triumph xhe same pure fleecy hair a ; one weft of which, 100 
Golden and great, quite touched his cheek as o'er 
She leant, speaking some six words and no more. 
He answered something, anything ; and she 
Unbound a scarf and laid it heavily 
Upon him, her neck's warmth and all. Again 
Moved the arrested magic ; in his brain 
Noises grew, and a light that turned to glare, 
And greater glare, until the intense flare 
Engulfed him, shut the whole scene from his sense. 
And when he woke 'twas many a furlong thence, no 
At home ; the sun shining his ruddy wont ; 
The customary birds'-chirp ; but his front 
Was crowned — was crowned ! Her scented scarf around 
His neck ! Whose gorgeous vesture heaps the ground ? 
A prize ? He turned, and peeringly on him 
Brooded the women-faces, kind and dim, 
Ready to talk — " The Jongleurs in a troop 

89. some] your ... 90. wheeled] wheels . . . fronted] fronts. 
100. weft] curl. 

1 Apis, an Egyptian god supposed to dwell in the body of 
certain oxen, known by distinguishing marks, including a knot 
beneath the tongue in the form of the sacred beetle (scarab). 

' Bk. i. 752. 



SORDELLO 97 

" Had brought him back, Naddo and Squarcialupe Book II 

" And Tagliafer ; how strange ! a childhood spent 

" In taking, well for him, so brave a bent ! 120 

" Since Eglamor," they heard, " was dead with spite, 

" And Palma chose him for her minstrel." 

Light 
Sordello rose — to think, now ; hitherto He be- 

He had perceived. Sure, a discovery grew gi ns to 

Out of it all ! Best live from first to last think 

The transport o'er again. A week he passed, 
Sucking the sweet out of each circumstance, 
From the bard's outbreak to the luscious trance 
Bounding his own achievement. Strange ! A man 
Recounted an adventure, but began 130 

Imperfectly ; his own task was to fill 

The frame- work up, sing well what he sung ill, What 

Supply the necessary points, set loose caused 

As many incidents of little use triumph 

— More imbecile the other, not to see 
Their relative importance clear as he 1 ! 
But, for a special pleasure in the act 
Of singing — had he ever turned, in fact, 
From Elys, to sing Elys 2 ? — from each fit 

120. In taking] Assuming. 130. an . . .] that; but] and. 
132. sing] sang, 1840 and 1863 edition. 

1 The first question that occurs to him is what was so wonderful 
about his performance ? To Sordello it seemed the plain thing 
to do — Eglamor's song was so obviously unfinished and im- 
perfect ; what more natural than that he should put it right ? 
He had yet to learn the extent of his own gifts and his superi- 
ority to the mass of mankind. The pronouns here are confusing. 
A man recounted an adventure but imperfectly — Sordello's 
task had been to fill the framework up, etc., etc. — more imbecile 
the other not to see their relative importance as clear as Sordello 

did. ., 

2 Sordello as yet knew nothing of " form.'' With him 
the thought and its expression were one and the same thing. 
Later on he realized the technical difficulties of his art. See 
lines 488-500, 574 ff. He could not understand anyone (like 
Eglamor) having to get his ideas first and put them into rhyme 
afterwards. He had never turned from Elys the thought to 
construct Elys the completed song. The conception and its 
execution were with him a single act. He little knew the diffi- 
culties which the momentary inspiration had enabled him to 
overcome, and in consequence scoffed at the laboured effort 
of Eglamor. 



98 SORDELLO 

BpoK II Of rapture to contrive a song of it ? 14c 

True, this snatch or the other seemed to wind 
Into a treasure, helped himself to find 
A beauty in himself ; for, see, he soared 
By means of that mere snatch, to many a hoard 
Of fancies ; as some falling cone bears soft 
The eye along the fir-tree-spire, aloft 
To a dove's nest. Then, how divine the cause 
Why such performance should exact applause 
From men, if they had fancies too ? Did fate 
Decree they found a beauty separate 150 

In the poor snatch itself ? — " Take Elys, there, 
" — ' Her head that's sharp and perfect like a pear, 
" ' So close and smooth are laid the few fine locks 
" ' Coloured like honey oozed from topmost rocks 
" ' Sun-blanched the livelong summer ' — if they heard 
" Just those two rhymes, assented at my word, 
" And loved them as I love them who have run 
" These fingers through those pale locks, let the sun 
" Into the white cool skin — who first could clutch, 
" Then praise — I needs must be a god to such. 1 160 

" Or what if some, above themselves, and yet 
The Ex- " Beneath me, like their Eglamor, have set 
planation " ^ n impress on our gift ? So, men believe 

" And worship what they know not, nor receive 

" Delight from. Have they fancies — slow, perchance, 

" Not at their beck, which indistinctly glance 

" Until, by song, each floating part be linked 

" To each, and all grow palpable, distinct ? " 

He pondered this. 

Meanwhile, sounds low and drear 
Stole on him, and a noise of footsteps, near 170 

And nearer, while the underwood was pushed 
Aside, the larches grazed, the dead leaves crushed 
At the approach of men. The wind seemed laid ; 

145. soft] oft. 148. Why such] Such a,. 151. Take Elys] 
Our Elys . . . 158. pale] fine. 

159. Who first could clutchi nay, thus I clutch 
Then praise J Those locks ! 

161. what if some] if some few. 171. while] and. 

1 Sordello's creations were as real to him as the material 
world around him. His power of visualizing his mental con- 
ceptions was the great secret of his success as a singer. 



SORDELLO gg 

Only, the trees shrunk slightly and a shade 

Came o'er the sky although 'twas midday yet : 

You saw each half-shut downcast floweret 

Flutter — " a Roman bride, when they'd dispart 

" Her unbound tresses with the Sabine dart, 1 

" Holding that famous rape in memory still, 

" Felt creep into her curls the iron chill, 180 

" And looked thus," Eglamor would say — indeed 

'Tis Eglamor, no other, these precede 

Home hither in the woods. " 'Twere surely sweet 

" Far from the scene of one's forlorn defeat 

" To sleep ! " judged Naddo, who in person led 

Jongleurs and Trouveres, chanting at their head, 

A. scanty company ; for, sooth to say, 

Our beaten Troubadour had seen his day. 

Old worshippers were something shamed, old friends 

Nigh weary ; still the death proposed amends. 190 

" Let us but get them safely through my song 

" And home again ! " quoth Naddo. 

All along, 
This man (they rest the bier upon the sand) 
— This calm corpse with the loose flowers in his hand, 
Eglamor, lived Sordello's opposite. 2 

176. floweret] violet. 177. they'd] they . . . 

1 The Sabines are celebrated in history as the first race who 
took up arms against the Romans to avenge the rape of their 
women at a spectacle to which they had been invited. The 
memory of this was kept up in the custom alluded to in the 
text to impress the bride with the Sabine ideal of female honour. 
The notion of nature shuddering at the approach of the dead 
poet, as the bride might at the thought of what awaited her 
if she was untrue to her marriage vow, was the kind of far-fetched 
conceit for which Eglamor had rather a weakness. 

s The essential difference between Eglamor and Sordello lay 
in this : that to Eglamor Song was an end in itself, to Sordello 
it was but a means. To Eglamor Art brought its own reward, 
it marked him a man apart, he loved Art for Art's sake. He 
shrunk even from his own highest, for he dare not " leave the 
ground to lose himself in the sky," afraid of " moving about in 
worlds not realized." To Sordello song was but a medium 
of expression for the revelation to mankind of the depths of his 
own soul. Poets such as Eglamor are of that weaker class 
described in Bk. i. 506-516. Sordello is represented as one of the 
first poets to lift his art from the mere ballad or story-telling 
stage to a higher level and give to it a didactic purpose. 
He sought to raise mankind through the double medium of 



ioo S0RDELL0 

Book II For him indeed was Naddo's notion right, 

And verse a temple-worship vague and vast, 

Eglamor A ceremony that withdrew the last 
as poet Opposing bolt, looped back the lingering veil 

Which hid the holy place : should one so frail 20a 

Stand there without such effort ? or repine 

If much was blank, uncertain at the shrine 

He knelt before, till, soothed by many a rite, 

The power responded, and some sound or sight 

Grew up, his own forever, to be fixed, 

In rhyme, the beautiful, forever ! — mixed 

With his own life, unloosed when he should please, 

Having it safe at hand, ready to ease 

All pain, remove all trouble ; every time 

He loosed that fancy from its bonds of rhyme, 210 

(Like Perseus when he loosed his naked love) 1 

Faltering ; so distinct and far above 

Himself, these fancies ! He, no genius rare, 

Transfiguring in fire or wave or air 

At will, but a poor gnome that, cloistered up 

In some rock-chamber with his agate cup, 

His topaz rod, his seed-pearl, in these few 

And their arrangement finds enough to do 

For his best art. 2 Then, how he loved that art ! 

The calling marking him a man apart 220 

From men — one not to care, take counsel for 

Cold hearts, comfortless faces — (Eglamor 

self-revelation expressed in song. Eglamor's strong point was 
his reverence and his unselfish appreciation of others, as, for 
instance, his generous recognition of Sordello's victory in the 
prize song. It was this which saved him in Browning's 
estimation. See Bk. vi. line 798 ff. 

1 Andromeda was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea 
monster, thus to appease the wrath of Neptune, and was rescued 
by Perseus. Cf. description in Pauline — 

" As she awaits the snake on the wet beach, 
By the dark rock and the white wave just breaking 
At her feet : quite naked and alone : a thing 
You doubt not, fear not for, secure that God 
Will come in thunder from the stars to save her." 

2 This is a good example of how Browning sometimes sacrifices 
sense and aptness of illustration to the charm of his own fancy. 
The picture is delightful, but poor as a simile. Similarly the 
picture of the bat which follows, which is most certainly too 
strong a condemnation. 



SORDELLO 101 

Was neediest of his tribe) — since verse, the gift, Book II 

Was his, and men, the whole of them, must shift His pride 

Without it, e'en content themselves with wealth in his Art: 

And pomp and power, snatching a life by stealth. 

So, Eglamor was not without his pride ! 

The sorriest bat which cowers throughout noontide 

While other birds are jocund, has one time 

When moon and stars are blinded, and the prime 230 

Of earth is his to claim, nor find a peer ; 

And Eglamor was noblest poet here — 

He well knew, 'mid those April woods he cast 

Conceits upon in plenty as he passed, 

That Naddo might suppose him not to think 

Entirely on the coming triumph : wink 

At the one weakness x ! 'Twas a fervid child, 

That song of his ; no brother of the guild 

Had e'er conceived its like. The rest you know, 

The exaltation and the overthrow : 240 

Our poet lost his purpose, lost his rank, 

His life — to that it came. Yet envy sank 

Within him, as he heard Sordello out, 

And, for the first time, shouted — tried to shout 

Like others, not from any zeal to show 

Pleasure that way : the common sort did so, 

What else was Eglamor ? who, bending down 

As they, placed his beneath Sordello's crown, 

Printed a kiss on his successor's hand, 

Left one great tear on it, then joined his band 2 250 

— In time ; for some were watching at the door : 

Who knows what envy may effect ? " Give o'er, 

" Nor charm his lips, nor craze him ! " (here one spied 

And disengaged the withered crown) — " Beside Story of 

" His crown ? How prompt and clear those verses rang his death 

228. throughout] through . . . 231. his] its . . . 233. He 
well knew 'mid] He knew among the . . . 247. What else] 
And what . . . 248. As they] The same . . . 255. rang . , . 
sang] rung, sung. 

1 His pride. See line 70. 

2 In justice to Eglamor it should be realized that his admiration 
of Sordello is genuine. Though Sordello's success has ruined 
his own prestige, yet he recognizes his master. His pride in 
his art and his local pre-eminence is, under the spell of Sordello's 
genius, melted into admiration and humility — but his eclipse 
killed him. 



102 S0RDELL0 

Book II " To answer yours ! nay, sing them ! " And he sang 
Them calmly. Home he went ; friends used to wait 
His coming, zealous to congratulate ; 
But, to a man — so quickly runs report — 
Could do no less than leave him, and escort 260 

His rival. That eve, then, bred many a thought : 
What must his future life be ? was he brought 
So low, who stood so lofty this Spring morn ? 
At length he said, " Best sleep now with my scorn. 
" And by to-morrow I devise some plain 
" Expedient ! " So, he slept, nor woke again. 
They found as much, those friends, when they returned 
O'erflowing with the marvels they had learned 
About Sordello's paradise, his roves 
Among the hills and vales and plains and groves, 270 
Wherein, no doubt, this lay was roughly cast, 
Polished by slow degrees, completed last 
To Eglamor's discomfiture and death. 1 

Such form the chanters now, and, out of breath, 
They lay the beaten man in his abode, 
Naddo reciting that same luckless ode, 
Doleful to hear. Sordello could explore 
By means of it, however, one step more 
In joy ; and, mastering the round at length, 
Learnt how to live in weakness as in strength, 2 280 

When from his covert forth he stood, addressed 
Eglamor, bade the tender ferns invest, 

Sordello Primaeval pines o'ercanopy his couch, 
at the And, most of all, his fame — (shall I avouch 
grave j?gi amor heard it, dead though he might look, 

258. zealous] anxious. 263. stood] was. 270. vales and] 
valleys. 

1 This view was, of course, quite wrong. Naddo and his friends 
had no idea of a natural poet, a born genius like Sordello, and 
imagined his impromptu song to be the outcome of laborious 
toil and study like their own efforts. 

2 Eglamor had the faults of mediocrity. He cherished his 
reputation, was proud and loved his art for the position it gave 
him. His reputation gone, his heart broke. Sordello saw the 
lesson pointed by Eglamor's failure, and realized that if he would 
triumph he must be above both apparent success and failure. 
It cost him his life, but he was faithful at the last. I take it 
that what Naddo recited was Eglamor's prize song — not an 
original effort. Had Sordello held to the line this moment of 
clear vision gave him he would not have failed as he did. 



SORDELLO 103 

And laughed x as from his brow Sordello took Book II 

The crown, and laid on the bard's breast, and said 

It was a crown, now, fit for poet's head 2 ?) 

— Continue. Nor the prayer quite fruitless fell. 

A plant they have, yielding a three-leaved bell 290 

Which whitens at the heart ere noon, and ails 

Till evening ; evening gives it to her gales 

To clear away with such forgotten things 

As are an eyesore to the morn : this brings 

Him to their mind, and bears his very name. 3 

So much for Eglamor. My own month came 4 ; 
'Twas a sunrise of blossoming and May. 
Beneath a flowering laurel thicket lay 
Sordello ; each new sprinkle of white stars 5 
That smell fainter of wine than Massic jars 300 

Dug up at Baiae, when the south wind shed 
The ripest, made him happier ; filleted 
And robed the same, only a lute beside 
Lay on the turf. Before him far and wide 
The country stretched : Goito slept behind 
— The castle and its covert, which confined 
Him with his hopes and fears ; so fain of old 
To leave the story of his birth untold. 
At intervals, 'spite the fantastic glow 
Of his Apollo-life, a certain low 310 

And wretched whisper, winding through the bliss, 
Admonished, no such fortune could be his, 
All was quite false and sure to fade one day : 
The closelier drew he round him his array 

287. laid on the bard's breast] laid it on his breast. 

1 Eglamor knew now the value of earthly crowns. 

2 Fit, because won by his own greatness ; rendered of still 
greater value because willingly admitted by the unselfishness 
of Eglamor and finally consecrated by death. 

3 The flower " Eglamor " is still unidentified. Mr Birrell's 
conjecture "S. Bruno's lily" seems to me unsatisfactory. 

4 Browning was born on May 7th, 1812. 

6 The same thought occurs only in English dress in Home 
Thoughts from Abroad — 

" And after April when May follows 
And the whitethroat builds and all the swallows 
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge 
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover 
Blossoms and dew-drops . . . 



104 S0RDELL0 

Book II Of brilliance to expel the truth. But when 
A reason for his difference from men 
Surprised him at the grave, he took no rest 
While aught of that old life, superbly dressed 
Down to its meanest incident, remained 

Sordello A mystery : alas, they soon explained 320 

learns his Away Apollo ! and the tale amounts 
history To this : when at Vicenza % both her counts 
Banished the Vivaresi kith and kin, 
Those Maltraversi hung on Ecelin, 
Reviled him as he followed ; he for spite 
Must fire their quarter, though that self-same night 
Among the flames young Ecelin was born 
Of Adelaide, there too, and barely torn 
From the roused populace hard on the rear, 
By a poor archer when his chieftain's fear 330 

The ex- Grew high ; into the thick Elcorte leapt, 

pulsion Saved her, and died ; no creature left except 
His child to thank. And when the full escape 
Was known — how men impaled from chine to nape 
Unlucky Prata, all to pieces spurned 
Bishop Pistore's concubines, and burned 
Taurello's entire household, flesh and fell, 
Missing the sweeter prey — such courage well 
Might claim reward. 2 The orphan, ever since, 
Sordello, had been nurtured by his prince 340 

325. Reviled "l Reviling. 331. Grew] Was. 

him J 

1 This was the historic expulsion of Ecelin and Taurello from 
Vicenza upon which the action of Sordello is based. The two 
counts here mentioned were probably Pilio Celsano and his 
son Count Albert, the former of whom was elected Podesta in 
this year by the party of the counts of Vicenza. These counts 
of Vicenza, whose family name was Beroaldi, were a branch of 
the Maltraversi family and the leaders of the faction opposing 
Ecelin and the counts of Vivaro. (See Pagliarini, Storia di 
Vicenza) . 

2 The story was correct enough except in the matter of Sordello's 
parentage, which Adelaide concealed for her own reasons. See 
Introd., Bk. i. § 6. The story is again related reminiscently by 
Taurello, Bk. iv. 698-750: "The sweeter prey," i.e. Taurello 
himself. In the article on Sordello in the Biographie Universelle 
it is mentioned that Sordello was said by some to have been born 
" dans le Mantouan d'un pauvre chevalier nomm£ Elcort." 
Browning probably drew the name from this source. 



SORDELLO 105 

Within a blind retreat where Adelaide-- Book II 

(For, once this notable discovery made, 

The past at every point was understood) 

— Might harbour easily when times were rude, 

When Azzo schemed for Palma, to retrieve 

That pledge of Agnes Este— loth to leave 

Mantua unguarded with a vigilant eye, 

While there Taurello bode ambiguously — 1 

He who could have no motive now to moil 

For his own fortunes since their utter spoil — 350 

As it were worth while yet (went the report) 

To disengage himself from her. In short, 

Apollo vanished ; a mean youth, just named 

His lady's minstrel, was to be proclaimed 

— How shall I phrase it ? — Monarch of the World ! 

For, on the day when that array was furled 

Forever, and in place of one a slave 

To longings, wild indeed, but longings save 

In dreams as wild, suppressed— one daring not 

Assume the mastery such dreams allot, 360 

Until a magical equipment, strength, Sordello's 

Grace, wisdom, decked him too,— he chose at length, claim 

Content with unproved wits and failing frame, 

In virtue of his simple will, to claim 

That mastery, no less — to do his best 

With means so limited, 2 and let the rest 

Go by, — the seal was set : never again 

344. Might] Can . . . 345. Azzo] Este. 
345-348. These lines read in rst edition — 

" When Este schemes for Palma — would retrieve 

That pledge, when Mantua is not fit to leave 

Longer unguarded with a vigilant eye 

Taurello bides there so ambiguously — " 
354. For] But . . 

1 Two reasons there were for Adelaide's conduct : Taurello 
might be tampered with by the Guelf faction, and he might 
meet and recognize his son Sordello. Azzo wanted to marry 
his ally Boniface to Palma " to retrieve the pledge," i.e. to get 
back an equivalent for Agnes Este's marriage with Ecelin. 
Probably a question of dowry, that the lands Ecelin got with 
Agnes might come back to the Guelfs through the daughter's 
marriage with Boniface. 

2 The magnitude of Sordello's claim was increased by the 
fact that the two ordinary avenues to prominence — physical 
prowess and high birth — were for him cut off. His physical 



106 SORDELLO 

Book II Sordello could in his own sight remain 

One of the many, one with hopes and cares 

And interests nowise distinct from theirs, 370 

Only peculiar in a thriveless store 

Of fancies, which were fancies and no more, 

Never again for him and for the crowd 

A common law was challenged and allowed 

If calmly reasoned of, howe'er denied 

By a mad impulse nothing justified 

Short of Apollo's presence. The divorce 

Is clear : why needs Sordello square his course 

By any known example ? Men no more 

Compete with him than tree and flower before. 380 

Himself, inactive, yet is greater far 

Than such as act, each stooping to his star, 

Acquiring thence his function ; he has gained 

The same result with meaner mortals trained 

To strength or beauty, moulded to express 

Sordello : Each the idea that rules him ; since no less 

the uni- He comprehends that function, but can still 

svoTa- Embrace the others, take of might his fill 

S5 thizer With Richard as of grace with Palma, mix 

Their qualities, or for a moment fix 390 

On one ; abiding free meantime, uncramped 

By any partial organ, never stamped 

Strong, and to strength turning all energies — 

Wise, and restricted to becoming wise — 

That is, he loves not, nor possesses One 

Idea that, star-like over, lures him on 

Sordello To its exclusive purpose. 1 " Fortunate ! 

lo i' a-, 

393 and] so 

weakness debarred him from success as a man of action, his 
(supposed) ignoble birth from position and influence. 

1 This ubiquitous sympathy or power of appreciating the 
peculiar pleasure derived from the exercise of any particular 
attribute, such as grace or wisdom or strength, yet without any 
standard of their relative value by which to judge them, Sordello 
considered to be his main strength. By means of this power 
he was to get in touch with each human soul, and by the display 
through his own personality of the possibilities of these attributes 
raise each individual to his highest level. See 11. 440-445. Yet 
it was this very width of sympathy and want of a central idea 
behind it which proved his fundamental weakness. When he 
came to put his theory in practice, having no touchstone by 



SORDELLO 107 

" This flesh of mine ne'er strove to emulate Book II 

" A soul so various — took no casual mould 

" Of the first fancy and, contracted, cold, 400 

" Clogged her forever — soul averse to change 

" As flesh : whereas flesh leaves soul free to range, 

" Remains itself a blank, cast into shade, 

" Encumbers little, if it cannot aid. 

" So, range, free soul ! — who by self-consciousness, 

" The last drop of all beauty dost express — 

" The grace of seeing grace, a quintessence 

" For thee : while for the world, that can dispense 

" Wonder on men who, themselves, wonder — make 

" A shift to love at second-hand, and take 410 

" For idols those who do but idolize, 

" Themselves, — the world that counts men strong or wise, 

" Who, themselves, court strength, wisdom, — it shall 

bow 
" Surely in unexampled worship now, 
" Discerning me ! " — 

(Dear monarch, I beseech, 
Notice how lamentably wide a breach 

Is here : discovering this, discover too Browning 

What our poor world has possibly to do criticizes 

With it ! As pigmy natures as you please — 
So much the better for you ; take your ease, 420 

Look on, and laugh ; style yourself God alone ; 
Strangle some day with a cross olive-stone ! 
All that is right enough : but why want us 
To know that you yourself know thus and thus 1 ?) 

401-402. reads — 

" Lay clogged forever thence, averse to change 
As that. Whereas it left her free to range . . ." 

405. free] my . . . 409. who . . .] themselves that wonder. 

41 1 -3] " Those for its idols who but idolize 

Themselves — that loves the soul as strong as wise 
Whose love is strength, is wisdom — such shall bow." 

which to prove the various and often contradictory beliefs and 
opinions of others, he was led into a state of mental chaos and 
became incapable of guiding anyone and even of controlling 
himself. 

1 Browning appears several times in the poem as the critic 
of his own creation. The last half of the third book is an example 
of this being a personal discussion, having nothing to do with 
Sordello. 



io8 



SORDELLO 



As Al- 
truist 



Book II " The world shall bow to me conceiving all 
Sordello " Man's hfe, who see its blisses, great and small, 
again " Afar — not tasting any ; no machine 
" To exercise my utmost will is mine : 
" Be mine mere consciousness ! Let men perceive 
" What I could do, a mastery believe, 430 

" Asserted and established to the throng 
" By their selected evidence of song 
," Which now shall prove, whate'er they are, or seek 
" To be, I am — whose words, not actions speak, 
" Who change no standards of perfection, vex 
" With no strange forms created to perplex, 
" But just perform their bidding and no more, 
" At their own satiating-point give o'er, 
" While each shall love in me the love that leads 
" His soul to power's perfection." x Song, not deeds, 440 
(For we get tired) was chosen. Fate would brook 
Mankind no other organ ; he would look 
For not another channel to dispense 
His own volition by, receive men's sense 
His Of its supremacy — would live content, 
medium Obstructed else, with merely verse for vent. 
ong Nor should, for instance, strength an outlet seek 
And, striving, be admired : nor grace bespeak 
Wonder, displayed in gracious attitudes : 
Nor wisdom, poured forth, change unseemly moods ; 450 
But he would give and take on song's one point. 
Like some huge throbbing stone that, poised a-joint, 
Sounds, to affect on its basaltic bed, 

425. Nay finish . . Bow to me, etc. . . . 429.] Therefore 
mere consciousness for me — Perceive. 434. whose words] who 
take no pains to speak . . . 434. just] mean. 439. While] 
And . . . 440. power's] its . . . 444. by] and . . . 445. 
supremacy] existing. 

1 The blend in Sordello of egoist and altruist makes it difficult 
to determine his character. The nobility of his desire to raise 
mankind is constantly neutralized and obscured by his thirst 
for appreciation and his craving for joy. Yet it was genuine 
enough. The supreme lesson of humility which eventually 
struggled through the enveloping clouds of unchecked indi- 
vidualism and shed a ray of true light into his soul came only at 
the close of his life. Even then he never reached the height 
which can exclaim, " If I must needs glory I will glory in those 
things which concern mine infirmities." 



SORDELLO 109 

Must sue in just one accent ; tempests shed Book II 

Thunder, and raves the windstorm : only let 

That key by any little noise be set — 

The far benighted hunter's halloo pitch 

On that, the hungry curlew chance to scritch 

Or serpent hiss it, rustling through the rift, 

However loud, however low — all lift 460 

The groaning monster, stricken to the heart. 

Lo ye, the world's concernment, for its part, 
And this, for his, will hardly interfere ! 
Its businesses in blood and blaze this year 
But wile the hour away — a pastime slight 
Till he shall step upon the platform : right ! 
And, now thus much is settled, cast in rough, 
Proved feasible, be counselled ! thought enough, — 
Slumber, Sordello ! any day will serve : 
Were it a less digested plan ! how swerve 470 

To-morrow ? Meanwhile eat these sun-dried grapes, 
And watch the soaring hawk there ! Life escapes 
Merrily thus. 1 

He thoroughly read o'er 
His truchman Naddo's missive six times more, Naddo's 

Praying him visit Mantua and supply letter 

A famished world. 

The evening star was high 
When he reached Mantua, 2 but his fame arrived 
Before him : friends applauded, foes connived 
And Naddo looked an angel, and the rest 

Angels, and all these angels would be blest 480 Sordello 

Supremely by a song — the thrice-renowned j" Man " 

Goito-manufacture. Then he found 
(Casting about to satisfy the crowd) 
That happy vehicle, so late allowed, 

455. windstorm] landstorm. 

1 It is typical of Sordello that, having decided to adopt song 
as his mode of expression, and hastily sketched to himself how 
he will use it, that he takes for granted the success and imagines 
that having got thus far any time will do to begin and that such 
things as difficulty or failure do not exist — he was soon rudely 
awakened to their reality. 

2 Cf. Lycidas — 

" Oft till the star that shines at evening bright 
Towards heaven's descent had sloped his westering wheel." 



no SORDELLO 

Book II A sore annoyance 1 ; 'twas the song's effect 
He cared for, scarce the song itself : reflect ! 
His In the past life, what might be singing's use ? 
d lp" Just to delight his Delians, whose profuse 
cu es p ra j se> no f- t^g toilsome process which procured 

That praise, enticed Apollo : dreams abjured, 49c 

No overleaping means for ends — take both 
For granted or take neither 2 ! I am loth 
To say the rhymes at last were Eglamor's ; 
But Naddo, chuckling, 3 bade competitors 
Go pine ; " the master certes meant to waste 
" No effort, cautiously had probed the taste 
" He'd please anon : true bard, in short, — disturb 
Naddo " His title if they could ; nor spur nor curb, 

explains « p anC y nor reason, wanting in him ; whence 

" The staple of his verses, common sense : 50c 

" He built on man's broad nature — gift of gifts, 

" That power to build ! The world contented shifts 

" With counterfeits enough, a dreary sort 

" Of warriors, statesmen, ere it can extort 

" Its poet-soul — that's after all, a freak, 

" (The having eyes to see and tongue to speak) 4 

" With our herd's stupid sterling happiness 

" So plainly incompatible that — yes — 

1 On Sordello's difficulties, see Introduction, Bk. ii. § 5. The, 
more immediate ones when once he began life as a troubadour 
were technical — thought, language and expression; the deeper 
ones arose from the clash of his predetermined ideals with the 
plain facts of experience. 

2 In singing to his " Delians," the creations of his own brain, 
words did not matter : whether he actually translated his 
thoughts into words or not, and whether when he did so they 
were intelligible or not, he could always imagine a great success ; 
but now, in dealing with men and women, he had to find words 
and thoughts and rhythm or he could get no applause at all ! 

3 Naddo, who had no doubt been enlarging upon the wonders 
of Sordello's art to the people, is not a little disturbed to find that 
Sordello's very first effort is little better than a rechaufte of 
one of Eglamor's songs. Having in a sense gone sponsor for 
Sordello, he has to explain to the people Sordello's apparent lack 
of originality, which he does on the grounds that, with true 
artistic instinct, Sordello gives them only what they can under- 
stand. He nevertheless is not a little amused and gratified at 
Sordello's shortcomings. The depreciation of greatness is always 
dear to the commonplace mind. 

4 An ironical Browning comment. 



SORDELLO in 

" Yes — should a son of his improve the breed Book II 

" And turn out poet, he were cursed indeed ! " 510 

" Well, there's Goito and its woods anon, 
" If the worst happen ; best go stoutly on 
" Now ! " thought SordeUo. 

Ay, and goes on yet ! 
You pother with your glossaries to get 
A notion of the Troubadour's intent 
In rondel, tenzon, virlai or sirvent — 1 

Much as you study arras how to twirl The Art 

His angelot, plaything of page and girl of the 

Once ; but you surely reach, at last, — or, no ! dour ba " 

Never quite reach what struck the people so, 520 

As from the welter of their time he drew 
Its elements successively to view, 
Followed all actions backward on their course, 
And catching up, unmingled at the source, 
Such a strength, such a weakness, added then 
A touch or two, and turned them into men. 
Virtue took form, nor vice refused a shape ; 
Here heaven opened, there was hell agape, 
As Saint this simpered past in sanctity, 
Sinner the other flared portentous by 530 

A greedy people. Then why stop, surprised 
At his success ? The scheme was realized 
Too suddenly in one respect 2 : a crowd 
Praising, eyes quick to see, and lips as loud 
To speak, delicious homage to receive, 

511. and its woods anon] to retire upon. 516. rondel, tenzon] 
rondels, tenzons. 

1 The sirvente and the tenzon were forms of Troubadour 
poetry. The former, which was used chiefly as a war-song or a 
satire, was very elastic in metre and of no very definite form. 
It was used to censure political and social disorders and as a 
means of bringing grievances before the attention of the public. 
The tenzon or contention was a dialogue between two troubadours, 
in the course of which the two combatants maintained alternately 
different sides of some question of love or chivalry, using the 
same stanzas and rhymes. The virlai or virelai and the rondel 
were shorter forms and of French origin. 

8 Sordello's difficulties and failure, enlarged upon at great length 
in the poem, must not blind us to the fact of his success. It was 
only from his own lofty standpoint that he failed ; from the stand- 
point of the populace — as a troubadour, that is — he was a marvel. 



ii2 SORDELLO 

Book II The woman's breath to feel upon his sleeve, 
Who said, " But Anafest — why asks he less 
" Than Lucio, in your verses 1 ? how confess, 
" It seemed too much but yestereve ! " — the youth, 

His first Who bade him earnestly, " Avow the truth ! 540 

successes " You love Bianca, surely, from your song ; 
" I knew I was unworthy ! " — soft or strong, 
In poured such tributes ere he had arranged 
Ethereal ways to take them, sorted, changed, 
Digested. Courted thus at unawares, 
In spite of his pretensions and his cares, 
He caught himself shamefully hankering 
And After the obvious petty joys that spring 
*k ei £ From true life, fain relinquish pedestal 
e ec And condescend with pleasures — one and all 550 

To be renounced, no doubt ; for, thus to chain 
Himself to single joys and so refrain 
From tasting their quintessence, frustrates, sure, 
His prime design ; each joy must he abjure 
Even for love of it. 

He laughed 2 : what sage 
But perishes if from his magic page 
He look because, at the first line, a proof 
'Twas heard salutes him from the cavern roof ? 
On ! Give yourself, excluding aught beside, 
" To the day's task ; compel your slave provide 560 
" Its utmost at the soonest ; turn the leaf 
" Thoroughly conned. These lays of yours, in brief — 
" Cannot men bear, now, something better ? — fly 
" A pitch beyond this unreal pageantry 
" Of essences ? the period sure has ceased 
" For such : present us with ourselves, at least, 
" Not portions of ourselves, mere loves and hates 

536. The woman's] Bianca's . . . 544. Ethereal] Etherial. 
548. The] your . . . 549. true] real. 559. yourself] thyself. 
So throughout passage. 

1 I.e. Why does my lover (Anafest) ask less of me than the Lucio 
of your verses did of his love ? 

2 It was the laugh of a man intoxicated by sudden and immediate 
success and in danger of losing his better judgment. The road 
to real success is long and difficult : Sordello could do much 
better than this if he persevered. It was the first temptation 
to stop at the wayside and forego the long road he knew lav before 
him. } 



SORDELLO 113 

" Made flesh : wait not ! " Book II 

Awhile the poet waits 
However. The first trial was enough : 
He left imagining, to try the stuff 570 

That held the imaged thing, and, let it writhe 
Never so fiercely, scarce allowed a tithe The diffi- 

To reach the light — his Language. How he sought cult y of 

The cause, conceived a cure, and slow re-wrought ex " . 

That Language, — welding words into the crude pression 

Mass from the new speech round him, till a rude 
Armour was hammered out, in time to be 
Approved beyond the Roman panoply 
Melted to make it, — boots not. 1 This obtained 
With some ado, no obstacle remained 580 

To using it ; accordingly he took 
An action with its actors, quite forsook 
Himself to live in each, returned anon 
With the result — a creature, and, by one 
And one, proceeded leisurely to equip 
Its limbs in harness of his workmanship. 
" Accomplished ! Listen, Mantuans ! " Fond essay ! 
Piece after piece that armour broke away, He tries 

Because perceptions whole, like that he sought his new 

To clothe, reject so pure a work of thought 590 l an | ua S e 

As language : thought may take perception's place matte" 

But hardly co-exist in any case, form 

Being its mere presentment — of the whole 
By parts, the simultaneous and the sole 
By the successive and the many. Lacks 
The crowd perception ? painfully it tacks ,} 

596. perception] perceptions. 

1 In Sordello's influence on the Italian tongue Browning has 
made use of a hint from Dante. See Plumptre's Dante, Purg., 
c. vii. 1. 16, where Sordello, finding that the spirit who accosts 
him is Virgil, says — 

" ' O glory of the Latins,' said he, ' whence 
Was shown the might of what our speech could do ; 
Source of my native land's pre-eminence, 
What grace or merit brings thee to my view ? ' " 

Upon which lines Plumptre remarks: " The Lombard Provencal 
poet does not cease to feel that he too has a share in the Latin 
which Virgil wrote, and of which he had shown the capacity for 
the highest poetry. Sordello's influence is also mentioned by 
Dante in his prose treatise, Ds Vulgari Eloquentia 

H 



U4 SORDELLO 

Book II Thought to thought, which Sordello, needing such, 

but fails Has rent perception into : it's to clutch 
And reconstruct — his office to diffuse, 
Destroy : as hard, then, to obtain a Muse 600 

As to become Apollo. 1 " For the rest, 
" E'en if some wondrous vehicle expressed 
" The whole dream, what impertinence in me 
" So to express it, who myself can be 
" The dream ! nor, on the other hand, are those 
" I sing to, over-likely to suppose 
" A higher than the highest I present 
" Now, which they praise already : be content 
" Both parties, rather — they with the old verse, 
" And I with the old praise — far go, fare worse ! " 610 
A few adhering rivets loosed, upsprings 
The angelj sparkles off his mail, which rings, 
Whirled from each delicatest limb it warps ; 
So might Apollo from the sudden corpse 
Of Hyacinth have cast his luckless quoits. 2 
He set to celebrating the exploits 
Of Montfort o'er the Mountaineers. 3 

Then came 

597. Thought to thought] Together thoughts which . . . 
600. As hard] as difficult obtain a Muse ... in short, as the 
Apollo. 608. which] and. 614. So] as. 

1 Having rewrought his language, Sordello tries to present a 
whole scene or drama to the people. The attempt, however, is 
a failure — you cannot represent simultaneous action by succes- 
sive representation. The people cannot follow him, not having 
Sordello's grasp of the whole idea. He perforce must fall back 
on the old familiar narrative. He comforts himself with the 
thought that to one so great as he is, who can actually be what he 
conceives, even if he could present it, it would be an impertinence. 
The passage may, however, mean that Sordello tried to put before 
the people an ideal figure who represented the combined char- 
acteristics of half a dozen of his former single heroes, but being 
too complex in idea no one understood it. 

2 Hyacinth was a youth beloved of Apollo and Zephyrus : 
he returned the former's love and Zephyrus became jealous. 
As they played at quoits Zephyrus blew Apollo's against Hyacinth 
and killed him. Just as Apollo might have hurled his luckless 
quoits to the winds, so Sordello flung aside his attempt at 
dramatic representation and returned to the commonplace 
narrative of Montfort. 

3 Simon de Montfort, the father of the famous English baron 
of the same name, was the leader in the crusade against the 



SORDELLO 115 

The world's revenge : their pleasure, now his aim Book II 

Merely, — what was it ? " Not to play the fool 

" So much as learn our lesson in your school ! " x 620 How the 

Replied the world. He found that, every time people 

He gained applause by any ballad-rhyme, under- 

His auditory recognized no jot stood " 

As he intended, and, mistaking not him 

Him for his meanest hero, ne'er was dunce 

sufficient to believe him — all, at once. 2 

His will . . . conceive it caring for his will ! 

■ — Mantuans, the main of them, admiring still 

How a mere singer, ugly, stunted, weak, 

Had Montfort at completely (so to speak) 630 

His fingers' ends ; while past the praise-tide swept 

To Montfort, either's share distinctly kept : 

The true meed for true merit ! — his abates 

Into a sort he most repudiates, 

And on them angrily he turns. 3 Who were 

The Mantuans, after all, that. he should care 

About their recognition, ay or no ? 

In spite of the convention months ago, 

(Why blink the truth ?) was not he forced to help Sordello's 

This same ungrateful audience, every whelp 640 an g er at 

Of Naddo's litter, make them pass for peers * he Man " 

With the bright band of old Goito years, 

As erst he toiled for flower or tree ? Why, there 

622. ballad rhyme] given rhyme. 642. old] those. 

Albigeois, which took place in the South of France from 1210 
to 1229. The Albigeois, who were charged with the Paulician 
heresy, so called probably from Paul of Samosata, a schismatic 
of the fourth century, were exterminated with ruthless severity. 
The subject would be a popular one with the Italian people and 
to Sordello's hearers of recent interest. 

1 I.e. " Not to be so foolish as to go to school again to be taught 
by you." This is Sordello's first real failure. He comes down 
from his attempt to teach the people and sings what they want, 
because he cannot do without praise and success. 

2 That is, all his heroes at once. 

3 Sordello held that as the apprehension of noble attributes 
came from within, the measure of his greatness was identical 
with that of his heroes of romance, and that the multitude 
should in consequence transfer to him the applause they bestowed 
upon his creations. The fact that they did not was a bitter dis- 
appointment to him. 



n6 SORDELLO 

Book II Sat Palma ! Adelaide's funereal hair 

Ennobled the next corner. 1 Ay, he strewed 

A fairy dust upon that multitude, 

Although he feigned to take them by themselves ; 

His giants dignified those puny elves, 

Sublimed their faint applause. In short, he found 

Himself still footing a delusive round, 650 

Remote as ever from the self-display 

He meant to compass, hampered every way 

By what he hoped assistance. 2 Wherefore then 

Continue, make believe to find in men 

A use he found not ? 

Weeks, months, years went by 
And lo, Sordello vanished utterly, 
Sundered in twain ; each spectral part at strife 
With each ; one jarred against another life ; 
The Poet thwarting hopelessly the Man — 3 
Who, fooled no longer, free in fancy ran 660 

Here, there : let slip no opportunities 
As pitiful, forsooth, beside the prize 
To drop on him some no-time and acquit 

The Poet His constant faith (the Poet's-half to wit — 
and the That waiving any compromise between 
Man No joy and all joy kept the hunger keen 
Beyond most methods) — of incurring scoff 

644. Sat] sate. 

1 The forms and features of the crowd provided the raw material 
for his characters, which his fancy at once elevated and idealized ; 
my creations, thought Sordello, are too fine for such an audience. 

2 That is, the people themselves ; in Sordello's scheme they 
were the machinery for reflecting or demonstrating his sovereign 
will by which the world was to be reclaimed. They proved, 
however, far less receptive than he conceived, and became a 
hindrance, not a help. See 1. 995. 

8 As the applause fell off, and Sordello's popularity declined, 
the weak strain in his character appeared. Rather than not have 
appreciation he gave up his high aims and offered to sing 
as the people wanted. Then came " the world's revenge." 
They demanded the obvious and the commonplace : not the truth, 
but what was generally accepted as such ; and the effort to comply 
rent Sordello in twain. The man-part, weak and vain, complied ; 
the poet-half, strong and true, rebelled. The result was hopeless. 
The passage may well reflect something of Browning's own view 
as to the popular attitude towards his own previous poems, 
Pauline and Paracelsus, with their new form and language and 
transcendental outlook. 



SORDELLO 117 

From the Man-portion— not to be put off Book II 

With self-reflectings by the Poet's scheme, 

Though ne'er so bright. Why sauntered forth in 

dream, 670 

Dressed any how, nor waited mystic frames, 
Immeasurable gifts, astounding claims, 
But just his sorry self ? — who yet might be 
Sorrier for aught he in reality 
Achieved, so pinioned Man's the Poet-part, 
Fondling, in turn of fancy, verse ; the Art 
Developing his soul a thousand ways — 
Potent, by its assistance, to amaze 
The multitude with majesties, convince 
Each sort of nature that the nature's prince 680 

Accosted it. Language, the makeshift, grew 
Into a bravest of expedients, too ; 
Apollo, seemed it now, perverse had thrown 
Quiver and bow away, 1 the lyre alone 
Sufficed. While, out of dream, his day's work went 
To tune a crazy tenzon or sirvent — 
So hampered him the Man-part, thrust to judge 
Between the bard and the bard's audience, grudge 
A minute's toil that missed its due reward ! 
But the complete Sordello, Man and Bard, 690 

John's cloud-girt angel, this foot on the land, 
That on the sea, with, open in his hand, 
A bitter-sweetling of a book 2 — was gone. 

Then, if internal struggles to be one, 
Which frittered him incessantly piecemeal, 
Referred, ne'er so obliquely, to the real 
Intruding Mantuans ! ever with some call 
To action while he pondered, once for all, 
Which looked the easier effort — to pursue 
This course, still leap o'er paltry joys, yearn through 700 The Al- 
The present ill-appreciated stage temative 

675. Man's] that. 680. the] same. 694. Then] And. 697. 
Intruding Mantuans] 1st edit, reversed. 

1 The Quiver and Bow symbolized the ideal of perfect physical 
manhood. 

2 " And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven 
clothed with a cloud . . . and he had in his hand a little book 
open : and he set his right foot in the sea and his left foot on the 
earth." — Rev. x. 2. 



n8 SORDELLO 

Book II Of self-revealment, and compel the age 

Know him — or else, forswearing bard-craft, wake 

From out his lethargy and nobly shake 

Off timid habits of denial, mix 

With men, enjoy like men. Ere he could fix 

On aught, in rushed the Mantuans ; much they cared 

For his perplexity ! Thus unprepared, 

The obvious if not only shelter lay 

In deeds, the dull conventions of his day 710 

Prescribed the like of him : why not be glad 

'Tis settled Palma's minstrel, good or bad, 

Submits to this and that established rule ? 

Let Vidal change, or any other fool, 

His murrey-coloured robe for filamot. 

And crop his hair ; too skin-deep, is it not, 

Such vigour * ? Then, a sorrow to the heart, 

His talk ! 2 Whatever topics they might start 

Had to be groped for in his consciousness 

1 Pierre Vidal, a troubadour who followed Richard I. to the 
Holy Land. He indulged in the wildest eccentricities, amongst 
others assuming the title of Emperor of the East. Possibly 
the allusion here is to this, that is, going from the glorious life 
of a bard to that of a mere civilian (c/. ii. 225-232), a common 
form of the vanity of the troubadours. Murrey-coloured is 
dark red, from Lat. moro, a moor, Ital. morello ; but here simply 
means coloured, as contrasted with filamot, i.e. dead-leaf 
coloured, " feuille-morte " (Sismondi, Lit. S. Europe, and Johnson's 
Diet.). The following description of the dress of the jongleurs 
may be given : — " They wore a hat with a peacock's feather 
standing to a great height above the crown ; a jacket tricked out 
with streaming ribbons, and decorated [down the front with 
rosettes of various colours. This jacket was generally made of 
some bright-hued material, such as grass-green or peach-coloured 
cloth ; hose and stockings of gaudy colours and large rosettes 
on their shoes " (Rowbotham, Troubadours and Courts of Love) . 

s The beliefs and,opinions of ordinary people — of which Naddo 
is a type — are larijely customary and traditional, the result of 
education and social intercourse. They accept the premisses 
and adopt the conclusions of their class on the principle of accept- 
ance prior to investigation. Sordello, on the other hand, had 
come to no conclusions, for he was still searching for his premisses. 
Devoid of education, with such knowledge as he had acquired 
as yet undigested, astonishingly ignorant of human nature, yet 
with a singularly clear-sighted and receptive mind, he was no 
match for Naddo and the rest, with their sorted opinions and ready- 
made answers. He overlooked their horizon, and his replies were 
in consequence unintelligible to them. They thought him a 
fool, he knew they were — hardly a basis for mutual understanding. 



SORDELLO 



119 



Straight, and as straight delivered them by guess. 

Only obliged to ask himself, " What was," 

A speedy answer followed ; but, alas, 

One of God's large ones, tardy to condense 

Itself into a period ; answers whence 

A tangle of conclusions must be stripped 

At any risk ere, trim to pattern clipped, 

They matched rare specimens the Mantuan flock 

Regaled him with, each talker from his stock, 

Of sorted-o'er opinions, every stage, 

Juicy in youth or desiccate with age, 

Fruits like the fig-tree's, rathe-ripe, rotten-rich, 

Sweet-sour, all tastes to take : a practice which 

He too had not impossibly attained, 

Once either of those fancy-flights restrained ; 

(For, at conjecture how might words appear 

To others, playing there what happened here, 

And occupied abroad by what he spurned 

At home, 'twas slipped, the occasion he returned 

To seize :) he'd strike that lyre adroitly — speech, 

Would but a twenty-cubit plectre reach ; 

A clever hand, consummate instrument, 

Were both brought close ; each excellency went 

For nothing, else. The question Naddo asked, 

Had just a lifetime moderately tasked 

To answer, Naddo's fashion. More disgust 

And more : why move his soul, since move it must 

At minute's notice or as good it failed 

To move at all ? The end was, he retailed 

Some ready-made opinion, put to use 

This quip, that maxim, ventured reproduce 

Gestures and tones — at any folly caught 

Serving to finish with, nor too much sought 

If false or true 'twas spoken ; praise and blame 

Of what he said grew pretty nigh the same 

— Meantime awards to meantime acts : his soul, 

Unequal to the compassing a whole, 

Saw, in a tenth part, less and less to strive 

About. And as for men in turn . . . contrive 

Who could to take eternal interest 

In them, so hate the worst, so love the best, 



720 Book II 

The trial 
of con- 
versation 



730 



740 



Sordello 



750 



760 



720. Straight] strait, 
passes. 



735. might] the. 736. happened] 



iao S0RDELL0 

Book II Though, in pursuance of his passive plan, 
He hailed, decried, the proper way. 

As Man 
So figured he ; and how as Poet ? Verse 
Came only not to a stand-still. The worse, 
Sordello That his poor piece of daily work to do 
as poet w as — not s j n k un( i er an y rivals ; who 

Loudly and long enough, without these qualms, 
Turned, 1 from Bocafoli's stark-naked psalms, 
To Plara's sonnets spoilt by toying with, 
" As knops that stud some almug to the pith 77c 

His poet- " Pricked for gum, wry thence, and crinkled worse 
rivals « -p^an p urs £d eyelids of a river-horse 

" Sunning himself o' the slime when whirrs tha 

breese "— 
Gad-fly, that is. 2 He might compete with these ! 
But— but— 

" Observe a pompion-twine afloat ; 
" Pluck me one cup from off the castle-moat ! 
" Along with cup ycu raise leaf, stalk and root, 
" The entire surface of the pool to boot. 
" So could I pluck a cup, put in one song 
" A single sight, did not my hand, too strong, 780 

" Twitch in the least the root-strings of the whole. 
" How should externals satisfy my soul ? " 
" Why that's precise the error Squarcialupe " 
(Hazarded Naddo) " finds ; ' the man can't stoop 
" ' To sing us out,' quoth he, ' a mere romance ; 
' ' He'd fain do better than the best, enhance 
" ' The subjects' rarity, work problems out 
" ' Therewith.' Now, you're a bard, a bard past doubt, 
" And no philosopher ; why introduce 
" Crotchets like these ? fine, surely, but no use 790 

768. turned] 1st edit, gives "tuned," also 1863 edit. 774. 
1st edit, reads : Ha, Ha 1 of course he might, etc. 

1 Both 1st edition and that of 1863 revised by Browning him- 
self give " tuned"; " turned " does not appear until the 17-vol. 
edition. 

a Bocafoli and Plara are imaginary poets. Browning gives 
us an imaginary sample of the latter's style. The reading of 
the 1st edition on line 774 is to be preferred. Browning's altera- 
tion, " Gadfly that is," is explanatory of " Breese," which is 
given in Johnson's Dictionary as " a stinging insect, a gad-fly." 



SORDELLO 121 

" In pcetry — which still must be, to strike, Book II 

" Based upon common sense ; there's nothing like 

" Appealing to our nature ! what beside Verb. 

" Was your first poetry ? No tricks were tried sap. 

" In that, no hollow thrills, affected throes ! ^°™ do 

" ' The man,' said we, ' tells his own joys and woes : 

" ' We'll trust him.' Would you have your songs 

endure ? 
" Build on the human heart ! — why, to be sure 
" Yours is one sort of heart — but I mean theirs, 
" Ours, every one's, the healthy heart one cares 800 
" To build on ! Central peace, mother of strength, 
" That's father of . . . nay, go yourself that length, 
" Ask those calm-hearted doers what they do 
" When they have got their calm ! And is it true, 
" Fire rankles at the heart of every globe ? 
" Perhaps. But these are matters one may probe 
" Too deeply for poetic purposes : 
" Rather select a theory that . . . yes, 
" Laugh ! * what does that prove ? — stations you midway 
" And saves some little o'er-refining. Nay, 810 

" That's rank injustice done me ! I restrict 
" The poet ? Don't I hold the poet picked 
" Out of a host of warriors, statesmen . . . did 
" I tell you ? Very like ! As well you hid 
" That sense of power, you have ! True bards believe 
" All able to achieve what they achieve — • 
" That is, just nothing — in one point abide 
" Profounder simpletons than all beside. 
"Oh, ay ! The knowledge that you are a bard 
" Must constitute your prime, nay sole, reward ! " 2 820 
So prattled Naddo, busiest of the tribe Confusion 

Of genius-haunters — how shall I describe worse 

What grubs or nips or rubs or rips — your louse founded 

804. And] Nay. 816. All] Us. 

1 One cannot but feel that a keener sense of humour would have 
saved Sordello much; had he not been so much in earnest 
Naddo's refreshing platitudes might have appealed more often 
than they apparently did. 

* Browning gives us here only one side of the arguments. 
Sordello's interruptions are not given, but only implied. The 
whole speech is, as it were, a summary, with most of Naddo's 
usual trite commonplaces omitted. 



122 SORDELLO 

Book II For love, your flea for hate, magnanimous, 
Malignant, Pappacoda, Tagliafer, 
Picking a sustenance from wear and tear 
By implements it sedulous employs 
To undertake, lay down, mete out, o'er-toise 
Sordello ? Fifty creepers to elude 
At once ! They settled staunchly ; shame ensued : 830 
Behold the monarch of mankind succumb 
To the last fool who turned him round his thumb, 
As Naddo styled it ! 'Twas not worth oppose 
The matter of a moment, gainsay those 
He aimed at getting rid of ; better think 
Their thoughts and speak their speech, secure to slink 
Back expeditiously to his safe place, 
And chew the cud — what he and what his race 
Were really, each of them. Yet even this 
Conformity was partial. He would miss 840 

Some point, brought into contact with them ere 
Assured in what small segment of the sphere 
Of his existence they attended him ; 
Whence blunders, falsehoods rectified — a grim 
List — slur it over ! How ? If dreams were tried, 
His will swayed sicklily from side to side, 
Nor merely neutralized his waking act 
But tended e'en in fancy to distract 
The intermediate will, the choice of means. 
He lost the art of dreaming : Mantuan scenes 850 

Supplied a baron, say, he sang before, 
Handsomely reckless, full to running-o'er 
The effort Of gallantries ; " abjure the soul, content 

to be " With body therefore ! " Scarcely had he bent 
S "faiis Hi 1 * 156 * 1 m dream thus low, when matter fast 
Cried out, he found, for spirit to contrast 
And task it duly ; by advances slight, 
The simple stuff becoming composite, 
Count Lori grew Apollo : best recall 
His fancy ! Then would some rough peasant-Paul, 860 
Like those' old Ecelin confers with/ glance 
His gay apparel o'er ; that countenance 

844. rectified] rectify. 851. sang] sung. 

1 Ecelin, the monk, towards the end of his life was accused o£ 
the Paulician heresy. 



SORDELLO 123 

Gathered his shattered fancies into one, Book II 

And, body clean abolished, soul alone 

Sufficed the grey Paulician : by and by, 

To balance the ethereality, 

Passions were needed ; foiled he sank again. 
Meanwhile the world rejoiced ('tis time explain) 

Because a sudden sickness set it free 

From Adelaide. 1 Missing the mother-bee, 870 

Her mountain-hive Romano swarmed ; at once Death of 

A rustle-forth of daughters and of sons Adelaide 

Blackened the valley. " I am sick too, old, 

'' Half-crazed I think ; what good's the Kaiser's gold 
' To such an one ? God help me ! for I catch 
' My children's greedy sparkling eyes at watch — 
' ' He bears that double breastplate on,' they say, 
' ' So many minutes less than yesterday ! ' Romano's 

' Beside, Monk Hilary 2 is on his knees . letter to 

' Now, sworn to kneel and pray till God shall please 880 Taurell ° 
' Exact a punishment for many things 
' You know, and some you never knew ; which brings 
' To memory, Azzo's sister Beatrix 
' And Richard's Giglia are my Alberic's 
' And Ecelin's betrothed 3 ; the Count himself 
' Must get my Palma : Ghibellin and Guelf 
' Mean to embrace each other." So began 

Romano's missive to his fighting man 

Taurello — on the Tuscan's death, away 

With Friedrich sworn to sail from Naples' bay 890 

Next month for Syria. Never thunder-clap 

Out of Vesuvius' throat, like this mishap 

Startled him. " That accursed Vicenza ! I 

" Absent, and she selects this time to die ! 

" Ho, fellows, for Vicenza ! " Half a score 

Of horses ridden dead, he stood before 

Romano in his reeking spurs : too late — 

892. Vesuvius' throat] Vesuvius' mount. 

1 There is a wonderful description of the scene in Bk. iii. 370, 
where Palma relates what took place to Sordello. 

2 If this is not meant to be Ecelin in person, we may suppose 
his repentance was vicarious. The monastery at Oliero contained 
four monks, oi whom Ecelin was one, and two were priests. 
See Introd., § 17. 

3 These alliances are historical. 



124 SORDELLO 

Book II " Boniface urged me, Este could not wait," 

Taur- The chieftain stammered ; "let me die in peace — 

ello's re- " Forget me ! Was it I who craved increase 90c 

turn " of rule ? Do you and Friedrich plot your worst 
" Against the Father : as you found me first 
" So leave me now. Forgive me ! Palma, sure, 
" Is at Goito still. Retain that lure — 
" Only be pacified ! " 

The country rung 
With such a piece of news : on every tongue, 
How Ecelin's great servant, congeed off, 
Had done a long day's service, so, might doff 
Comes to The green and yellow, 1 and recover breath 

Mantua ^t Mantua, whither, — since Retrude's death, 910 

(The girlish slip of a Sicilian bride 
From Otho's house, he carried to reside 
At Mantua till the Ferrarese should pile 
A structure worthy her imperial style, 
The gardens raise, the statues there enshrine, 
She never lived to see 2 ) — although his line 
Was ancient in her archives and she took 
A pride in him, that city, nor forsook 
Her child when he forsook himself and spent 
A prowess on Romano surely meant 920 

For his own growth — whither he ne'er resorts 
If wholly satisfied (to trust reports) 
With Ecelin. So, forward in a trice 
Were shows to greet him. " Take a friend's advice," 

900. who] e'er. 915. the statues there] their tenantry . . . 
919. when] though . . 921. growth] purposes. 

1 The green and yellow, the Ghibelline colours, were the colours 
of Romano, from whom they were extended to the whole party. 
Their origin was in the ribbons or favours given by the ladies to 
their knights who fought for them in the tournaments, and which 
afterwards became adopted by the family as their proper colours. 
Tebaldo Cortelerio asserts, says Verci, that " le fascie dell' arme 
di Ecelino erano di color giallo e verde : I quali due colore furono 
propri de' Ghibellini " (vol. i. p. 294). 

s Retrude was, as Browning relates, Salinguerra's first wife. 
Of her connection with the house of Otho I have come across 
no evidence. Browning has also altered the facts in making 
her the mother of Sordello, for if we may trust Frizzi's Storia 
di F err am, she had five children by Taurello (see Table), all of 
whom Browning transfers to the second wife, Sophia. See Bk 
vi. 1. 681. 



SORDELLO 



125 



Quoth Naddo to Sordello, " nor be rash 

" Because your rivals (nothing can abash 

" Some folks) demur that we pronounced you best 

" To sound the great man's welcome ; 'tis a test, 

" Remember ! Strojavacca looks asquint, 

" The rough fat sloven ; and there's plenty hint 930 

" Your pinions have received of late a shock — 

" Outsoar them, cobswan of the silver flock ! 

" Sing well ! " A signal wonder, song's no whit 

Facilitated. 

Fast the minutes flit ; 
Another day, Sordello finds, will bring 
The soldier, and he cannot choose but sing ; 
So, a last shift, quits Mantua — slow, alone : 
Out of that aching brain, a very stone, 
Song must be struck. What occupies that front ? 940 
Just how he was more awkward than his wont 
The night before, when Naddo, who had seen 
Taurello on his progress, praised the mien 
For dignity no crosses could affect — 
Such was a joy, and might not he detect 
A satisfaction if established joys 
Were proved imposture ? Poetry annoys 
Its utmost : wherefore fret ? Verses may come 
Or keep away ! And thus he wandered, dumb 
Till evening, when he paused, thoroughly spent, 
On a blind hill-top : down the gorge he went, 950 

Yielding himself up as to an embrace. 
The moon came out ; like features of a face, 
A querulous fraternity of pines, 
Sad blackthorn clumps, leafless and grovelling vines 
Also came out, made gradually up 
The picture ; 'twas Goito's mountain-cup 
And castle. He had dropped through one defile 
He never dared explore, the Chief erewhile 
Had vanished by. Back rushed the dream, enwrapped 
Him wholly. Twas Apollo now they lapped, 
Those mountains, not a pettish minstrel meant 960 
To wear his soul away in discontent, 
Brooding on fortune's malice. Heart and brain 
Swelled ; he expanded to himself again, 



Book II 

Sordello 
must sing 
as Trou- 
badour 



Goito 
again 



937. a last shift, quits M.] so quits, a last shift, M. 



126 SORDELLO 

Book II As some thin seedling spice-tree starved and frail, 
Pushing between cat's head and ibis' tail 
Crusted into the porphyry pavement smooth, 
— Suffered remain just as it sprung, to soothe 
The Soldan's pining daughter, never yet 
Well in her chilly green-glazed minaret, — 97c 

When rooted up, the sunny day she died, 
And flung into the common court beside 
Its parent tree. 1 . Come home, Sordello ! Soon 
Was he low muttering, beneath the moon, 
Of sorrow saved, of quiet evermore, — 
Since from the purpose, he maintained before, 
Only resulted wailing and hot tears. 
Ah, the slim castle ! dwindled of late years, 
The But more mysterious ; gone to ruin — trails 
Castle of v j ne through every loop-hole. Nought avails 98c 

y m g -T-jjg jjjght as> torch in hand, he must explore 
The maple chamber : did I say, its floor 
Was made of intersecting cedar beams ? 
Worn now with gaps so large, there blew cold streams 
Of air quite from the dungeon ; lay your ear 
Close and 'tis like, one after one, you hear 
In the blind darkness water drop. The nests 
And nooks retain their long ranged vesture-chests 
Empty and smelling of the iris root 
The Tuscan grated o'er them to recruit 990 

Her wasted wits. Palma was gone that day, 
Said the remaining women. Last, he lay 
Beside the Carian group reserved and still. 

964. some] that. 
976. 1st edit, reads — 

How from his purposes maintained before. 
989. iris-root. Culpeper, on the virtues of this flower, says : 
" It is under the dominion of the moon. The spicy bitterness 
of the root of this plant bespeaks it a strengthener of the stomach 
and head, and therefore may fitly be put into any composition 
of that intention." He also mentions it as used for " sweet bags 
and perfumes." 

1 Sordello once more with nature expanded as a seedling would, 
when pulled up from its cramped position between the stones 
(where it had been suffered to remain, to please the Sultan's 
delicate daughter) and flung into the, common court beside its 
parent tree on the day of her death. 



SORDELLO 127 

The Body, the Machine for Acting Will, Book II 

Had been at the commencement proved unfit ; 
That for Demonstrating, Reflecting it, 
Mankind — no fitter : was the Will Itself 
In fault ? 

His forehead pressed the moonlit shelf 
Beside the youngest marble maid awhile ; 
Then, raising it, he thought, with a long smile, 1000 
" I shall be king again ! " as he withdrew 
The envied scarf ; into the font he threw 
His crown 

Next day, no poet ! " Wherefore ? " asked 
Taurello, when the dance of Jongleurs, masked 
As devils, ended ; " don't a song come next ? " 
The master of the pageant looked perplexed 
Till Naddo's whisper came to his relief. 
" His Highness knew what poets were : in brief, 
" Had not the tetchy race prescriptive right 
" To peevishness, caprice ? or, call it spite, 1010 

" One must receive then nature in its length 
" And breadth, expect the weakness with the strength ! " 
— So phrasing, till, his stock of phrases spent, 
The easy-natured soldier smiled assent, 
Settled his portly person, smoothed his chin, 
And nodded that the bull-bait might begin. 

1016. bull-bait] bull-chase. 



BOOK III 



INTRODUCTION 

Part I., 11. 1-593 

(1) The third book is divided into two parts, though 
Browning made no break [in the text, the first portion 
pursuing the fortunes of Sordello, the second being a 
long soliloquy by Browning himself in the first person 
on the proper function of a poet, and bearing only a 
slight relation to the rest of the work. The scene opens 
at Goito, whither Sordello has retired after his failure at 
Mantua. Under the influence of nature Sordello re- 
covers, and begins once more to reflect upon himself 
and his life's purpose. His attitude is one of blank 
despair. He is a failure — a failure physically and 
mentally. The motor force of human action is Will. 
He has pitted his against that Mantuan world of men 
and women, resolved that they should obey him, recog- 
nize his greatness, grasp his ideals, and respond to his 
appeal — and he has failed. Instead of lifting them he 
has lowered himself — sucked in their flattery, hankered 
after their praise, singing as they wanted and what they 
wanted, and losing his self-respect, and even the very 
art of singing itself, in the process. So it is all over at 
last. He has had his chance and lost it, and with the 
opportunity has gone those years of youth in which 
alone the foundations of success can be laid. He sees 
now the fundamental fallacy involved in his early plan 
of action. 

" To need become all natures, yet retain 
The law of my own nature," 

was an attempt to concentrate and dissipate his powers 
at one and the same time. The only result has been to 
take from him the faculty of enjoying the common 
pleasures of life, while it has brought him no nearer to 
that glorious synthesis of joy for which he was content 
to forego the lot of common men. Comparing still 

131 



132 SORDELLO 

further his own ideal of happiness with that of the world 
around him, he sees that happiness is largely a question 
of adjustment between ideals and experience, and is 
gained in proportion as we are able to assimilate the 
facts of hfe with our spiritual aspirations. Thus 
practical experience is an essential. This is just what 
he has omitted from his hfe, owing chiefly to his recog- 
nition of his physical shortcomings. The fresh realiza- 
tion of its importance gives him a reason (for which he 
has in reality? been looking) for renewed intercourse 
with men. His new-found resolve to return to the 
world is strengthened when he reflects upon the easiness 
of the victory the world has gained over him. His 
pride is touched. It is bad enough if at the close of a 
life of effort death comes, and he must perforce leave it 
to some other to find what he has missed — but how much 
worse if his failure be due to his own refusal to work ? 

" To be deposed, immured 
clandestinely — still petted, still assured 
To govern were fatiguing work — the sight 
Fleeting meanwhile ! "lis noontide : wreak ere night 
Somehow my will upon it, rather ! " 

At this opportune moment Naddo appears with a 
message from Palma summoning him to Verona. A 
casual hint from Naddo that her marriage with Boniface 
is pending clinches his resolve and he sets out at once. 
The next three hundred lines comprise mainly a long 
speech by Palma to Sordello in the palace at Verona, 
in which she discloses her love and gives him the full 
history of her plan to make him Romano's head ; at the 
last moment she conceals from him the story of his 
birth revealed to her by Adelaide on her deathbed, and 
hastily breaks into the incidents connected with Ecelin's 
retirement into the monastery at Oliero. Then she 
describes Taurello's return and his summary of the 
political situation of which she had now become the 
keystone, closing with the proposal that they shall 
forthwith proceed together to Ferrara, explain the 
position to Taurello, and together assume the leadership 
of the Kaiser's party in Italy. " And Palma's fled." 

Sordello, left alcne, determines to accept the position, 
to take once more his place among mankind, and wield 
the power thus put into his hand. 



SORDELLO 133 



Part II 

At this point the story is abruptly broken off, and the 
rest of the book is a Browning digression, arising mainly 
from the cessation in the composition of Sordello caused 
by the poet's first visit to Italy, which took place during 
April and May 1838. 

Will Sordello ever be finished, he wonders, and see the 
light as a completed whole, or will it suddenly fade into 
nothing like the miraculous creation of some eastern 
magician ? No, he says, it shall be finished, but it is 
well that for a time at least he return to the modern 
world. Who, then, will provide the necessary inspiration 
to complete it ? 

This question of inspiration leads him to utter some 
reflections on the subject. It is only, he observes, in 
poets of talent without genius, such as Eglamor, that 
you find perfection, for perfection implies limitation. 
Work that is truly inspired always betrays imperfections, 
an indication of the fact that the poet's life is ever 
deeper than his work. To the real poet the breath of 
inspiration is as necessary as the breeze is to the sailor. 
When it drops he lies becalmed, when it rises he must 
once more go forwards whither it blows. Thus musing, 
his eye lights on some peasants busied with their fruit 
boats. Will one of these, he wonders, provide him the 
necessary impetus ? 

But the sight of the peasant girls, so poor and yet so 
happy, leads him on to a further speculation. He recalls 
his own youthful ideal on the subject and the changes 
it has undergone. His first estimate of life was opti- 
mistic, and he planned to set before the world a picture 
of mankind as filled with an ideal happiness. Since 
then, however, he has discovered that in this life good 
and evil, happiness and unhappiness, are inextricably 
mingled, and no life is without both elements. Italy, 
however, with her wondrous skies and fruitful soil, 
where the needs of life are at their lowest and where 
supply and demand are almost equal, brings back with 
renewed force the conception of his youth that man- 
kind is on the whole happy. 

At this point his train of thought is crossed by another. 



134 SORDELLO 

From Italy his thoughts fly back to England and the 
grim tragedy of the London streets, and the bitter irony 
of calling all men happy returns with redoubled force. 
This side of the question is put before us in the poem 
in the form of a symbolic figure, the " silent, sad, dis- 
hevelled ghost " with whom Browning discourses. The 
figure represents not merely suffering humanity but sin- 
ful man, it includes the vicious and the wicked as well 
as the poor and the injured, and Browning, in consti- 
tuting himself their champion, is taking up the cudgels 
not only on behalf of the suffering, but also of the 
wickedness, of mankind. The seamy side of life has 
always attracted him, and his sympathy has ever been 
with the sinner and the outcast. Yet he is not sur- 
prised that his avowal should meet with distrust, for 
many before him have felt the call, but soon have tired 
of the ungrateful task. He feels, however, that it is his 
work and will not shrink therefrom. The defence which 
he offers is simple : it is that man, however bad, retains 
always his own conceit of truth, his own code of honour. 
Tortuous perhaps, but to himself not inaccessible. The 
sinner's point of view is that he is right and all the rest 
of the world wrong. He breaks the rules of society 
because they seem to him unjust, and he does evil that 
good may come, because in his ignorance he believes 
that the end justifies the means. This, says Browning, 
is bad, but at least it is honest. It is infinitely prefer- 
able, in his opinion, to the attitude of another class, who, 
with means and opportunities and education denied to 
the lower strata of mankind, prostitute them to trivial 
uses or pander to the lower instincts of their race. It 
is upon the arm-chair critics, the ideal social reformers, 
the limp-lambskin poetasters that Browning pours the 
vials of his wrath. In a passage whose uncouth force 
recalls the abrupt ruggedness of Carlyle he likens them 
to men who, from a position of comfort, watch a desert- 
bound caravan struggling through the parching sand, 
and who, as they order another iced drink, blandly 
wonder why those in the desert talk of thirst ! And 
then, he adds, if an honest man does come forward to 
help, saying what he thinks, awkwardly perhaps, but 
with sincerity, he is promptly condemned as crude or 
obscure and his matter banned as unpleasant, as well 



SORDELLO 135 

as being taxed with presumptuously taking upon him- 
self the office of sole teacher to the universe. The 
thought of a poetic " office " implying a knowledge of 
life's ultimate purpose gives Browning the opportunity^ 
of an answer to the question, " What do we here ? " This" 
life, he says, is but an erecting-shop, where each of us 
as we pass through the world slowly builds up the com- 
plex machine known as human character, tested and 
modified continually by our work, our companions, and 
our environment generally. Our knowledge as to its 
real possibilities and purpose is but guesswork, for as 
soon as it is finished we die : which means the whole is 
removed, dismounted wheel by wheel, to be set up anew 
elsewhere, to begin at last a task indeed, but in a clearer 
clime 

" Than the murk lodgement of our building time." 

Mankind, he proceeds, may be divided into three classes, 
whose office has been 

" The worst of us to say we so have seen, 
For the better, what it was they saw ; the best 
Impart the gift of seeing to the rest." 

Dealing with the last class, or the poet's, he gives two 
examples calculated to show their powers of reading 
character — the one of the youth imprisoned in the Piombi 
whose thoughts in spite of circumstances still hover with 
delight around his Zanze, the other a picture of the 
grim town whose streets yet held the soul of Plara the 
bard. The function of the poet is to reveal the Truth. 
It is his power and duty to show man to himself as he 
is, and not to be deceived by circumstances or appear- 
ances. In creative work he must hold the mirror up 
to nature and not prostitute her sacred gifts to such 
subject matter as 

" Tales of Potiphar's mishap 
and sonnets on the earliest ass that spoke ! " 

When, in the words of Jeremiah, "the prophets pro- 
phesy falsely and the priests bear rule by their means 
and my people love to have it so," there is only one thing 
left — rebellion. 

" Whereas all you, beneath, 
Should scowl at, bruise their lips and break their teeth, 
Who ply the pullies, for neglecting you." 



136 SORDELLO 

This actuality and fineness of construction is, says 
Browning, the virtue of his poem. Sordello is a real 
Man to be tried and turned, be angry with or pleased 
at. Whatever reception he may receive, he is at 
least a genuine creation and not a sham. This brings 
the argument to a close, and the book ends with an 
address to his imaginary audience, that they need not 
fear reprisals from the poet if his poem meets with 
their disapproval. ^Eschylus, W. S. Landor, and Miss 
Haworth are alluded to in the passage which follows, 
and the book is brought to a conclusion with an anec- 
dote of John the Beloved, to illustrate the line applied 
to the denouement of Sordello — 

" What seems a fiend perchance may prove a saint." 



BOOK THE THIRD 

Sordello, disillusioned and bitterly disappointed, feels the hope- Book III 
lessness, constituted as he is of any effective self-revealment, and 
resolves to give up the struggle. From this he is roused once 
more to action (i) by his analysis and self-application of human 
happiness, which he discerns comes only when our ideals are 
joined to action and experience (140-180) ; (ii) by his pride, which 
is touched by the easiness of his former surrender to the world 
(210-222) ; (iii) by a timely summons from Palma to come to 
Verona. His resolve is clinched by Naddo's careless message 
about Palma's impending marriage with Count Boniface. 

And the font took them : let our laurels lie ! 

Braid moonfern now with mystic trifoly 1 

Because once more Goito gets, once more, 

Sordello to itself ! A dream is o'er, 

And the suspended life begins anew ; 

Quiet those throbbing temples, then, subdue Nature's 

That cheek's distortion ! Nature's strict embrace, influence 

Putting aside the past, shall soon efface SOTdeUo 

Its print as well — factitious humours grown 

Over the true — loves, hatreds not his own — 10 

And turn him pure as some forgotten vest 

Woven of painted byssus, silkiest 

Tufting the Tyrrhene whelk's pearl-sheeted lip, 

Left welter where a trireme 2 let it slip 

I' the sea, and vexed a satrap ; so the stain 

O' the world forsakes Sordello, with its pain, 

1 In Culpeper's Herbal the properties of moonwort or moon- 
fern are thus described: "It is reported that whatever horse 
casually treads upon this herb will lose its shoes : it is also said 
to have the virtue of unlocking their fetters and causing them to 
fall off." Browning here applies it to Sordello in a similar sense ; 
the iron had entered into his soul, but under the soothing influence 
of nature his fetters fall off and he expands once more. Under 
trifoly or heart trefoil Culpeper has : " It is under the dominion of 
the sun, and if it were used it would be found as great a strengthener 
of the heart and cherisher of the vital spirit as grows." 

2 A trireme, a Greek ship with three tiers of oars on each side. 
Browning, by a kind of metonymy, transfers the action from the 
crew to the ship. 

137 



138 SORDELLO 

Book III Its pleasure : how the tinct loosening escapes, 
Cloud after cloud 1 ! MantUa's familiar shapes 
Die, fair and foul die, fading as they flit, 
Men, women, and the pathos andr the wit, 20 

Wise speech and foolish, deeds to smile or sigh 
For, good, bad, seemly or ignoble, die. 
The last face glances through the eglantines, 
The last voice murmurs, 'twixt the blossomed vines, 
Of Men, of that machine supplied by thought 
To compass self-perception with, he sought 
By forcing half himself — an insane pulse 
Of a god's blood, on clay it could convulse, 
Never transmute — on human sights and sounds, 
He will To watch the other half with ; irksome bounds 30 

try no It ebbs from to its source, a fountain sealed 
more F ore ver. Better sure be unrevealed 
Than part revealed r Sordello well or ill 
Is finished : then what further use of Will, 
Point in the prime idea not realized, 
An oversight ? inordinately prized, 
No less, and pampered with enough of each 
Delight to prove the whole above its reach. 2 
" To need become all natures, yet retain 

25. Of men] This May . . » he sought] idly sought. 

1 The picture is the dye coming off the garment as it lies at 
the bottom of the sea. The famous purple dye was made from 
the shells of a mollusc at Tyre. Cf. Popularity. 

" Who has not heard how Tyrian shells 
Enclosed the blue, that dye of dyes 
Whereof one drop worked miracles 
And coloured like Astaste's eyes 
Raw silk the merchant sells ? " 

2 The keynote to this passage from 11. 23-44 * s to be found in 
the lines 994-998 in Bk. ii. There was no further use of Will. 
His Will has failed. We may paraphrase these lines as follows : — 
As the last traces of Mantuan humanity fade from Sordello's 
mind, that humanity by means of which he was to have stamped 
his Will upon mankind (had they understood and responded as 
he in his ignorance of their capacities had imagined they would), 
he realizes where the fault lay. It is his Will that has failed, and 
this was a possibility he had never taken into account when he 
planned his scheme of raising men by self-revealment — it was a 
point in the prime idea not realized — yes, it was an oversight. 
Nay more, he had prized that Will inordinately, and he realized 
now how the little triumphs in individual cases he had gained 



SORDELLO 139 

" The law of my own nature — to remain 40 Book III 

" Myself, yet yearn ... as if that chestnut, think, 

" Should yearn for this first larch-bloom crisp and pink, 

" Or those pale fragrarit tears where zephyrs stanch 

" March wounds along the fretted pine-tree branch ! 

" Will and the means to show will, great and small, 

" Material, spiritual, — abjure them all 

" Save any so distinct, they may be left 

" To amuse, not tempt become x ! and, thus bereft, 

" Just as I first was fashioned would I be ! 

" Nor, moon, is it Apollo now, but me 50 

" Thou visitest to comfort and befriend! 

" Swim thou into my heart, and there an end, 

" Since I possess thee ! — nay, thus shut mine eyes 

" And know, quite know, by this heart's fall and rise, 2 

" When thou dost bury thee in clouds, and when 

" Out-standest : wherefore practise upon men 

" To make that plainer to myself ? " 

Slide here 
Over a sweet and solitary year 3 

40-41.] my . . . myself] one's . . . oneself, as if] aha, 
42. Should] To . . . 45. to show will] to show it. 46. they 
may] as to be left, amuse. 49. Just as I first] say, just as I 



by its means should have taught him how hopeless was the effort 
to lift mankind in the mass. To need become all natures, etc., 
was hopeless from the very nature of things. 

1 He will seek no more to reveal himself nor raise mankind, 
except perhaps by some small effort, such as an occasional song, 
which can be reckoned rather as an amusement than a temptation 
to resume the old ideal. 

2 There is a curious echo here of Keats' last sonnet — 

" Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art 

Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast, 
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell. 
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest. 
Still, still to hear her tender taken breath 
And so live ever or else swoon to death. 

3 Cf. 1. 517. The time here must be incorrect. Sordello 
retired to Goito when Taurello came to Mantua, after hearing 
of Adelaide's death ; Ecelin went into a monastery shortly after 
the same event, and the rising of the Ferrarese took place within 
a month, and Sordello is with Falma in the castle at Verona 
when news of Richard's capture then came. 



140 SORDELLO 

Book III Wasted ; or simply notice change in him — 

How eyes, once with exploring bright, grew dim 60 
Yet not And satiate with receiving. Some distress 
at ease Was caused, too, by a sort of consciousness 
Under the imbecility, — nought kept 
That down ; he slept, but was aware he slept, 
So, frustrated : as who brainsick made pact 
Erst with the overhanging cataract 
To deafen him, yet still distinguished plain 
His own blood's measured clicking at his brain. 

To finish. One declining Autumn day — 
Few birds about the heaven chill and grey, 70 

No wind that cared trouble the tacit woods — 
He sauntered home complacently, their moods 
According, his and nature's. Every spark 
Of Mantua life was trodden out ; so dark 
The embers, that the Troubadour, who sung 
Hundreds of songs, forgot, its trick his tongue, 
Its craft his brain, how either brought to pass 
Singing at all ; that faculty might class 
With any of Apollo's now. The year 
Began to find its early promise sere 80 

As well. Thus beauty vanishes ; thus stone 
Outlingers flesh : nature's and his youth gone, 
They left the world to you, and wished you joy. 
When, stopping his benevolent employ, 1 
A presage shuddered through the welkin ; harsh 
The earth's remonstrance followed. 'Twas the marsh 
An Gone of a sudden. Mincio, in its place, 
earth- Laughed, a broad water, in next morning's face, 

landslip And ' where tne mists broke up immense and white 

p I' the steady wind, burned like a spilth of light 90 

Out of the crashing of a myriad stars. 
And here was nature, bound by the same bars 
Of fate with him 2 ? 

61. and] as. 62. was caused] occasioned, too, a . . . 65. so 
frustrated] and frustrate so. 67. still] may. 76-77. his 
his] the . . . the. 78. at all] so e'er. 81. Thus stone, etc.] 
Your stone outlasts your flesh. 90. burned] burnt. 

1 Ironical : referring to the cynicism of the previous line. 

2 I.e. overwhelmed suddenly (as Sordello had been) by forces 
upon which she had not calculated. But there was a difference : 
nature could repair such catastrophes; not so Sordello, who feels 



SORDELLO 141 

" No ! youth once gone is gons : book nr 
Deeds, let escape, are never to be done. 
' Leaf-fall and grass-spring for the year ; for us — 
' Oh forfeit I unalterably thus 
' My chance ? nor two lives wait me, this to spend, 
' Learning save that ? Nature has time, may mend 
' Mistake, she knows occasion will recur ; 
' Landslip or seabreach, how affects it her ioo 

' With her magnificent resources ? — I 
' Must perish once and perish utterly. 
' Not any strollings now at even-close 1 
' Down the field-path, Sordello ! by thorn-rows 
' Alive with lamp-flies, swimming spots of fire - Might- 

' And dew, outlining the black cypress' spire have- 

' She waits you at, Elys, who heard you first beens " 

' Woo her, the snow-month through, but ere she durst 
' Answer 'twas April. Linden-flower-time-long Idyllic 

' Her eyes were on the ground ; 'tis July, strong no love 
' Now ; and because white dust-clouds overwhelm 
' The woodside, here or by the village elm 
' That holds the moon, she meets you, somewhat pale, 
' But letting you lift up her coarse flax veil 
' And whisper (the damp little hand in yours) 
' Of love, heart's love, your heart's love that endures 
' Till death. Tush ! No mad mixing with the rout 
' Of haggard ribalds wandering about 
' The hot torchlit wine-scented island-house 
' Where Friedrich holds his wickedest carouse, 120 

' Parading, — to the gay Palmeritans, 
' Soft Messinese, dusk Saracenic clans 

' Nuocera holds, — those tall grave dazzling Norse, As a 

' High-cheeked, lank-haired, toothed whiter than the courtier 
morse, 

98. time, may] leisure. 99. mistake, etc.] occasion, knows 
she, will recur. 108. through] ah, but, etc. 123. Nuocera 
holds] From N. 124. High-cheeked] clear-cheeked. 

that chances once lost are gone for ever. This earthquake is 
historical ; most of the chroniclers record it in the year 1222. 
In mense Septembris . . . apparuit in ccelo cometa ... in 
partibus Italiae universis terra tremuit, durantis fere per unam 
horam, etc. Rolandino, Bk. ii. c. iii. 

1 Sordello pictures to himself how, if things had been other- 
wise, his life might have passed under circumstances now lost for 
ever. 



142 SORDELLO 

Book III " Queens of the caves of jet stalactites, 

" He sent his barks to fetch through icy seas, 
" The blind night ?«as without a saving star, 
" And here in snowy birdskin robes they are, 
" Sordello ! — here, mollitious alcoves gilt 
" Superb as Byzant domes that devils built x ! 130 

" — Ah, Byzant, there again ! no chance to go 
" Ever like august cheery Dandolo, 2 
" Worshipping hearts about him for a wall, 
" Conducted, blind eyes, hundred years and all, 
or " Through vanished Byzant where friends note for him 

Crusader « wh a t pillar, marble massive, sardius slim, 

" 'Twere fittest he transport to Venice' Square — 

" Flattered and promised life to touch them there 

" Soon, by those fervid sons of senators ! 

" No more lifes, deaths, loves, hatreds, peaces, wars ! 140 

" Ah, fragments of a whole ordained to be, 

" Points in the life I waited ! what are ye 

" But roundels of a ladder which appeared 

" Awhile the very platform it was reared 

" To lift me on ? — that happiness I find 

" Proofs of my faith in, even in the blind 

" Instinct which bade forego you all unless 

" Ye led me past yourselves. Ay, happiness 

" Awaited me ; the way life should be used 

130. that] the. 132. cheery] pleasant. 135. where friends] 
to have noted him. 137. he] we. 139. those] his. 

1 If this is not some obscure allusion, it probably simply re- 
flects the mediaeval Italian attitude towards the sectaries 
of the Greek church. The "odium theologicum " was never 
displayed with greater mutual bitterness than in the schism 
of the Greek and Latin churches. See Gibbon, c. lx. One contem- 
porary historian quotes from a sermon of the Greek Patriarch 
" how he had impressed upon the Greeks for the remission of 
their sins, to slay the foreigners and drive them from the earth ! " 
which may be paralleled by the speech of Baldwin, who said of 
the Greeks that " they were not worthy to be called by the name 
of men but of dogs, to spill whose blood were scarce reckoned as 
a merit." 

2 The passage alludes to the fourth crusade (1204-05 a.d.), 
which was diverted from the Holy Land to Constantinople at 
the instigation of the Venetians under Henry Dandolo, the Doge. 
After the sack of the city many of the treasures were transported 
to Venice, including the famous bronze horses on St Mark's. 
Henry Dandolo was blind, and of a great age — Gibbon says 
ninety-seven at his death at Constantinople, in 1205. 



SORDELLO 



143 



Sordello's 
analysis 
of Hap- 
piness 



Was to acquire, and deeds like you conduced 150 Book III 

To teach it by a self-revealment, deemed 

Life's very use, so long ! Whatever seemed 

Progress to that, was pleasure ; aught that stayed 

My reaching it — no pleasure. I have laid 

The ladder down x ; I climb not ; still, aloft 

The platform stretches ! Blisses strong and soft, 

I dared not entertain, elude me ; yet 

Never of what they promised could I get 

A glimpse till now ! The common sort, the crowd, 

Exist, perceive ; with Being are endowed, 160 

However slight, distinct from what they See, 

However bounded ; Happiness must be, 

To feed the first by gleanings from the last, 

Attain its qualities, and slow or fast 

Become what they behold ; such peace-in-strife, 

By transmutation, is the Use of Life, 

The Alien turning Native to the soul 

Or body — which instructs me ; I am whole 

There and demand a Palma ; had the world 

Been from my soul to a like distance hurled, 2 170 

'Twere Happiness to make it one with me : 

Whereas^I must, ere I begin to Be, 

152. Life's, etc.] That very use too long. 1st coll. edit. 1863 
reads: The very use, so long. 155. ladder] roundels. 

1 Sordello, convinced that his life is spoilt and that nothing 
remains to live for, yet with a kind of subconscious desire to come 
out again into the world and make another effort, " he slept but 
was aware he slept and frustrate so," analyses common happiness 
and contrasts it with his own view. In his own life he had 
foregone ordinary pleasures and commonplace experience, re- 
solved only to have that whole which would include all 
lesser joys. This he perceives is the opposite of the "' common 
sort," who take all they can get from day to day, gradually 
forming their tastes and becoming what they aim at. This slow 
moulding of character by the interaction of experience and ideals 
reveals to Sordello the truth that both elements of imagination 
and action are necessary ingredients of human happiness, and he 
realizes that before he begins " to be " in its full sense he must 
possess an amount of actual worldly knowledge (a world of 
flesh) equal to his present store of spiritual experience. Hereby 
giving himself an excellent excuse to mix once more with men. 

2 He foresees the practical difficulties of a marriage with Palma, 
which appear far greater than the spiritual union with human 
aspirations and sorrow — but nevertheless now seen to be necessary 
for the fulfilment of perfect happiness. 



144 



SORDELLO 



Has he 

done his 

best? 

No 



Book III " Include a world, in flesh, I comprehend 

In spirit now ; and this done, what's to blend 

With ? Nought is Alien in the world — my Will 

Owns all already ; yet can turn it — still 

Less — Native, since my Means to correspond 

With Will are so unworthy, 'twas my bond 

To tread the very joys that tantalize 

Most now, into a grave, never to rise. 1 180 

I die then ! Will the rest agree to die ? 

Next Age or no ? Shall its Sordello try 

Clue after clue, and catch at last the clue 

I miss ? — that's underneath my finger too, 

Twice, thrice a day, perhaps, — some yearning traced 

Deeper, some petty consequence embraced 

Closer ! Why fled I Mantua, then ? — complained 

So much my Will was fettered, yet remained 

Content within a tether half the range 

I could assign it ? — able to exchange 190 

My ignorance (I felt) for knowledge, and 

Idle because I could thus understand — 

Could e'en have penetrated to its core 

Our mortal mystery, yet — fool — forbore, 

Preferred elaborating in the dark 

My casual stuff, by any wretched spark 

Born of my predecessors, though one stroke 

Of mine had brought the flame forth ! Mantua's yoke, 

My minstrel's trade, was to behold mankind, — 

175. in the world] here. 176. all] it. 180. Most] me. 

194. yet— fool — ] and yet forbore. 1st edit, and 1863. 200. 

My own concern] And nay own matter. 1868 : My own 
concernment. 

1 Sordello, contrasting himself with the common sort, finds this 
difference. Ordinary people with limited imagination aim only 
at what is feasible, and reach it, attaining thereby real happiness : 
the common soldier, for instance, does not aim at being a general, 
but a sergeant, and, becoming one, attains its qualities, re- 
sponsibilities, and dignities, and "becomes what he beholds." But 
Sordello aims at being an Ecelin and a Taurello, and, although 
he is in imagination capable of all their deeds, if he were suddenly 
to become so in practice his physical disabilities would make 
him a f ailure — he could not become what he beholds : it was this 
very self-knowledge which long ago made him neglect and lay 
aside and " tread into the grave never to rise " just those very 
physical qualities the want of which so tantalizes him now that 
he realizes their true worth 1 



SORDELLO 145 

" My own concern was just to bring my mind 200 BooK Ht 

" Behold, just extricate, for my acquist, 

" gach object suffered stifle in the mist 

" Which hazard, custom, blindness interpose 

" Betwixt things and myself." 

Whereat he rose. 

The level wind carried above the firs 

Clouds, the irrevocable travellers, 

Onward. 

" Pushed thus into a drowsy copse, 

" Arms twine about my neck, each eyelid drops 

" Under a humid finger ; while there fleets, 

" Outside the screen, a pageant time repeats 210 

" Never again ! To be deposed, immured Hi . s 

" Clandestinely — still petted, still assured P nd v *! 

<< t> * x- • 1 ii. p- i_i touched 

To govern were fatiguing work — the Sight at iast 

" Fleeting meanwhile ! 'Tis noontide : wreak ere night 

" Somehow my will upon it, rather ! Slake 

" This thirst somehow, the poorest impress take 

" That serves ! A blasted bud displays you, torn, 

" Faint rudiments of the full flower unborn ; 

" But who divines what glory coats o'erclasp 

" Of the bulb dormant in the mummy's grasp 220 

" TaureUo sent * ? " 

" Taurello ? Palma sent Naddo's 

" Your Trouvere," (Naddo interposing leant message 

Over the lost bard's shoulder) — " and, believe, 

" You cannot more reluctantly receive 

" Than I pronounce her message : we depart 

" Together. What avail a poet's heart 

203. Which hazard] contention . . . could impose, in their 
relation to myself (1863). 204. Whereat] omitted, 1st and 1st 
coll. edit. 219. glory] petals. 224. receive] conceive. 

1 This is the reverse of his dictum in I. 32 — 

"... Better sure be unrevealed 
Than part revealed." 

Who can divine what glory of flower and leaf the coats or layers 
of the bulb, dormant in the mummy's grasp which Taurello sent 
home, shut in ? Effort, even though it fail, is better than the 
greatest potentialities if unused. Sordello :s rapidly convinc- 
ing himself of the need to return to the world and try once more. 
It only needs the touch to his pride about Palma's wedding which 
follows to clinch his determination. 



146 SORDELLO 

Book III " Verona's pomps and gauds ? five blades of grass 

" Suffice him. News ? Why, where your marish 1 was, 

" On its mud-banks smoke rises after smoke 

" I* the valley, like a spout of hell new-broke. 230 

" Oh, the world's tidings ! small your thanks, I guess, 

" For them. The father of our Patroness, 

" Has played Taurello an astounding trick, 

" Parts between Ecelin and Alberic 

His news " His wealth and goes into a convent : both 

" Wed Guelfs : the Count and Palma plighted troth 

" A week since at Verona : and they want 

" You doubtless to contrive the marriage-chant 

" Ere Richard storms Ferrara." Then was told 

The tale from the beginning — how, made bold 240 

By Salinguerra's absence, Guelfs had burned 

And pillaged till he unawares returned 

To take revenge 2 ; how Azzo and his friend 

Were doing their endeavour, how the end 

O' the siege was nigh, and how the Count, released 

From further care, would with his marriage-feast 

Inaugurate a new and better rule, 

Absorbing thus Romano. 

" Shall I school 
" My master," added Naddo, " and suggest 
" How you may clothe in a poetic vest 250 

" These doings, at Verona ? Your response 
" To Palma ! Wherefore jest ? ' Depart at once ? ' 
" A good resolve ! In truth, I hardly hoped 
They " So prompt an acquiescence. 3 Have you groped 

leave for " Out wisdom in the wilds here ? — thoughts may be 
erona « Over-poetical for poetry. 

231. small your] little . . . 233. has played] playing . . 
239-251. Whole passage omitted in 1st edit. 

1 Marsh. Cf. Swift, Rhapsody on Poetry — 

" Or like a bridge that joins a marish 
To moorland of a different parish." 

2 This, though Naddo of course does not know, was planned by 
Salinguerra, to get the Guelfs to compromise themselves and give 
him a reason to break off the engagement between Palma and 
Boniface, and restore, if possible, the waning fortunes of Romano 
See Bk. i., Introd., § 5. 

3 Sordello's resolve is clinched by Naddo's information, and with 
characteristic impetuosity he sets out for Verona. 



SORDELLO 147 

" Pearl-white, you poets liken Palma's neck x ; Book III 

" And yet what spoils an orient like some speck 
" Of genuine white, turning its own white grey ? 
" You take me ? Curse the cicala 2 ! " 

One more day, 260 
One eve — appears Verona ! Many a group, 3 
(You mind) instructed of the osprey's swoop 
On lynx and ounce, was gathering — Christendom 
Sure to receive, whate'er the end was, from The 

The evening's purpose cheer or detriment, scene at 

Since Friedrich only waited some event Verona 

Like this, of Ghibellins establishing 
Themselves within Ferrara, ere, as King 
Of Lombardy, he'd glad descend there, wage 
Old warfare with the Pontiff, disengage 270 

His barons from the burghers, and restore, 
The rule of Charlemagne, broken of yore 
By Hildebrand." 

I' the palace, each by each, 
Sordello sat and Palma : little speech 
At first in that dim closet, face with face 
(Despite the tumult in the market-place) 
Exchanging quick low laughters : now would rush 
Word upon word to meet a sudden flush, 

A look left off, a shifting lips' surmise — Sordello 

But for the most part their two histories 280 and 

Ran best thro' the locked fingers and linked arms Palma 

And so the night flew on with its alarms 
Till in burst one of Palma's retinue ; 
" Now, Lady ! " gasped he. Then arose the two 

257. poets] minstrels. 264. the end was] it might be. 273. 
I' the palace] That evelong. 277. rush] gush. 

1 Cf. Dante's description of Beatrice (Vita Nuova, xix. 66) — 

" Color di perla ha quasi informa, quale 
Conviene a donna aver, non fuor misura." 

2 The tree cricket, whose note annoys Naddo. 

3 It is this scene with which the poem opens. Bk. i. 73-197, 
310-348. 

4 Hildebrand, who was proclaimed Pope in 1073 a.d., was the 
originator of the Papal claim to temporal sovereignty, and the 
Pope under whom the rivalry thus created between Empire and 
Papacy commenced, which in time developed into the Guelf- 
Ghibelline struggle. 



148 SORDELLO 

Book III And leaned into Verona's air, dead-still. 
Xhe A balcony lay black beneath until 
scene in Out, 'mid a gush of torchfire, grey-haired men 

the Came on it and harangued the people : then 
Square Sea-like that people surging to and fro 

Shouted, " Hale forth the carroch — trumpets, ho, 290 

" A flourish ! Run it in the ancient grooves ! 

" Back from the bell ! Hammer — that whom behoves 

" May hear the League is up ! Peal — learn who list, 

" Verona means not first of towns breaks tryst 

" To-morrow with the League ! " 

Enough. Now turn — 
Over the eastern cypresses : discern ! 
Is any beacon set a-glimmer ? 

Rang 
The air with shouts that overpowered the clang 
Of the incessant carroch, even : " Haste — 
" The candle's at the gateway ! ere it waste, 300 

" Each soldier stand beside it, armed to march 
" With Tiso Sampier 1 through the eastern arch ! " . . 
Ferrara's succoured, Palma 2 ! 

Once again 
They sat together ; some strange thing in train 

292. behoves] behooves. 294. first of towns] be the first. 
297. Is] you. 

1 He met his fate at the hands of Salinguerra according to 
Browning, but not so in fact. 

" for prowess, clove he not 
Tiso, last siege, from crest to crupper ? " 

Bk. vi. 615 (see note on). 
His wife is mentioned in Bk. v. 275. 

2 These words I take to be spoken by Sordello, as an inference 
from the sight of the beacon light, in which case they must re- 
present a prearranged signal of victory from Salinguerra, the 
victory being the capture of Boniface and the consequent success- 
ful issue of the plan arranged by Palma and Taurello for the com- 
promising of the Guelf faction as a means of restoring Ghibelline 
prestige and affording an excuse for breaking off the engagement 
between Palma and Boniface. The passages in inverted commas 
are obviously comments of the crowd outside, which may account 
for the absence of commas here. In the 1st edit, there are no 
inverted commas at all. Pietro Gerardo mentions how such 
means were used as signals, saying that Moncellese, a castle near 
Padua, " giorno e notte con segni di fumo e di fuoco demandava 
soccorso." 



SORDELLO 149 

To say, so difficult was Palma's place Book III 

In taking, with a coy fastidious grace 

Like the bird's flutter ere it fix and feed. 

But when she felt she held her friend indeed Palma's 

Safe, she threw back her curls, began implant c °n; 

Her lessons ; telling of another want 310 fession 

Goito's quiet nourished than his own ; 

Palma — to serve him — to be served, alone 

Importing 1 ; Agnes' milk so neutralized 

The blood of Ecelin. Nor be surprised 

If, while Sordello fain had captive led 

Nature, in dream was Palma subjected 

To some out-soul, which dawned not though she pined 

Delaying, till its advent, heart and mind 

Their life. " How dared I let expand the force 

" Within me, till some out-soul, whose resource 320 

" It grew for, should direct it ? Every law 

" Of life, its every fitness, every flaw, 

" Must One determine whose corporeal shape 

" Would be no other than the prime escape 

" And revelation to me of a Will 

" Orb-like o'ershrouded and inscrutable 

" Above, save at the point which, I snould know, 

" Shone that myself, my powers, might overflow Palma's 

" So far, so much ; as now it signified ideal 

" Which earthly shape it henceforth chose my guide, 330 

" Whose mortal lip selected to declare 

" Its oracles, what fleshly garb would wear 

" — The first of intimations, whom to love ; 

" The next, how love him. Seemed that orb, above 

" The castle-covert and the mountain-close, 

312. to serve him] Palma — to serve — as him — be served. 
315. fain, etc.] nature captive led. 316. insert " wholly." 
318. till its advent] still, (pursued she) heart, etc. 319. Their 
life] to live. 322. every fitness] fitnesses and . . . 323. One] 
that . . . 327. save] except, which] I was to . . . 330. my] 
to. 331. whose mortal] me by, whose. 334. seemed] and. 

1 The desire to rule — to be served — which Goito's quiet had 
nourished in Sordello was not the only want it had aroused, for 
it had brought forth an equal desire to serve on the part of Palma, 
which showed how the womanly influence of her mother contra- 
dicted in Palma's character the masculine traits she had inherited 
from her father. 



i5o 



S0RDELL0 



Book III 



Realized 

in Sor- 

deUo 



Slow in appearing ? — if beneath it rose 

Cravings, aversions, — did our green precinct 

Take pride in me, at unawares distinct 

With this or that endowment, — how, repressed 

At once, such jetting power shrank to the rest 1 ! 34a 

Was I to have a chance touch spoil me, leave 

My spirit thence unfitted to receive 

The consummating spell ? — that spell so near 

Moreover ! ' Waits he not the waking year ? 

' His almond-blossoms must be honey-ripe 

' By this ; to welcome him, fresh runnels stripe 

' The thawed ravines ; because of him, the wind 

' Walks like a herald. I shall surely find 

' Him now ! ' 

" And chief, that earnest April morn 
Of Richard's Love-court, was it time, so worn 350 
And white my cheek, so idly my blood beat, 
Sitting that morn beside the Lady's feet 
And saying as she prompted ; till outburst 
One face from all the faces. Not then first 
I knew it ; where in maple chamber glooms, 
Crowned with what sanguine-heart pomegranate 

blooms 
Advanced it ever ? Men's acknowledgment 
Sanctioned my own : 'twas taken, Palma's bent, — 
Sordello, — recognized, accepted. 

" Dumb 
Sat she still scheming. 2 Ecelin would come 360 

Gaunt, scared, ' Cesano baffles me,' he'd say : 



336. it rose] arose. 337. did] and. 338. Take] took. 
351. my . . . my] her .. . . her. 351. I] she . . . 358. 
my] her. 359. 1840 reads: She said. And day by day the 
Tuscan dumb — sat scheming. 1863 reads : Sordello, accepted. 
And the Tuscan dumb. 



1 Palma's great love-ideal, which she here likens to the moon, 
was slow in rising above her life's horizon. But so strong was her 
faith in its ultimate appearance, that if at any time a chance 
display of her endowments seemed to awake admiration for her 
in others, or to arouse too distinct likes or dislikes of others in 
herself, she at once repressed them lest a chance touch should 
spoil that perfect fruition of her being which the coming of that 
controlling over-soul must inevitably produce. 

2 The reading of the 1st edition is preferable, " She," is 
Adelaide, 



SORDELLO 



151 



Better I fought it out, my father's way ! Book III 

" ' Strangle Ferrara in its drowning fiats, 
' ' And you and your Taurello yonder ! — what's 
" ' Romano's business there ? ' An hour's concern 
" To cure the froward Chief ! — induce return 
" As heartened from those overmeaning eyes, 
" Wound up to persevere, — his enterprise 
" Marked out anew, its exigent of wit 
" Apportioned, — she at liberty to sit 370 

" And scheme against the next emergence, I — 
" To covet her Taurello-sprite, made fly 
" Or fold the wing — to con your horoscope 
" For leave command those steely shafts shoot ope, 
" Or straight assuage their blinding eagerness 
" In blank smooth snow. 1 What semblance of success Palma's 
" To any of my plans for making you dream 

" Mine and Romano's ? Break the first wall through, ^0 
" Tread o'er the ruins 2 of the Chief, supplant 
" His sons beside, still, vainest were the vaunt : 380 
" There, Salinguerra would obstruct me sheer, 
" And the insuperable Tuscan, here, 
" Stay me ! But one wild eve that Lady died 
" In her lone chamber : only I beside : 
" Taurello far at Naples, and my sire 
" At Padua, Ecelin away in ire 
" With Alberic. She held me thus — a clutch 
" To make our spirits as our bodies touch — 
" And so began flinging the past up, heaps 
" Of uncouth treasure from their sunless sleeps 390 

" Within her soul ; deeds rose along with dreams, 

366. induce] induced. 367. As] much. 372. her Taurello- 
sprite] What I deemed their sprite. 378. 1840 reads : Romano's 
lord ? That chief — her children too — . 379-380.] omitted. 

1 Palma's character befits her parentage : from her father she 
inherits the love of power and the sense of command, while her 
mother's influence is seen in the longing to caress and be caressed. 

" Be a god and hold me 
With a charm I 
Be a man and fold me 
With thine arm I " 

* Now no longer the Ecelin whose mere name was a terror, but 
an obscure monk ; one, as Browning contemptuously puts it 
later, among " the circle of bald-scalps " at Oliero, 



Adelaide's 
death 



152 



SORDELLO 



Ecelin's 
arrival 



Book III " Fragments of many miserable schemes, 

' Secrets, more secrets, then — no, not the last — 
' 'Mongst others, like a casual trick o' the past, 
' How ... ay, she told me, gathering up her face, 
' All left of it, into one arch-grimace 
' To die with 1 . . . 

" Friend, 'tis gone ! but not the fear 
' Of that fell laughing, heard as now I hear. 
' Nor faltered voice, nor seemed her heart grow weak 
' When i' the midst abrupt she ceased to speak 400 
' — Dead, as to serve a purpose, mark ! — for in 
' Rushed o' the very instant Ecelin 
' (How summoned, who divines ?) — looking as if 
' He understood why Adelaide lay stiff 
' Already in my arms ; for ' Girl, how must 
' ' I manage Este in the matter thrust 
' ' Upon me, how unravel your bad coil ? — 
' ' Since ' (he declared) ' 'tis on your brow — a soil 
' ' Like hers there ! ' then in the same breath, ' he 

lacked 
' No counsel after all, had signed no pact 410 

' With devils, nor was treason here or there, 
' Goito or Vicenza, his affair : 
' He buried it in Adelaide's deep grave, 
' Would begin life afresh, now, — would not slave 
' For any Friedrich's nor Taurello's sake ! 
' What booted him to meddle or to make 
' In Lombardy ? ' And afterward I knew 
The meaning of his promise to undo 
All she had done — why marriages were made, 
New friendships entered on, old followers paid 420 
With curses for their pains, — new friends' amaze 
At height, when, passing out by Gate Saint Blaise, 2 

396. All left of it] That face of hers into . . . 399. her heart] 
herself . . . 404. Part understood he why his mate . . . 407. 
your] their . . . 413. He buried] He'd bury . . , 417. And] 
'Twas. 421. new friends] people's ... 

1 It was the secret of Sordello's birth and parentage she re- 
vealed. Palma at the last moment changes her mind and does 
not teU Sordello. Bk. v. 778 fl. 

2 There is no gate S. Blaise now existing in Vicenza, nor is 
one mentioned by Pagliarini in his Storia di Vicenza, published 
in 1663, though a list of gates and churches is given. He does, 



SORDELLO 



153 



He stopped short in Vicenza, bent his head 
Over a friar's neck, — ' had vowed,' he said, 
' Long since, nigh thirty years, because his wife 
' And child were saved there, to bestow his hfe 
' On God, his gettings on the Church.' x 

" Exiled 
Within Goito, still one dream beguiled 
My days and nights ; 'twas found, the orb I sought 
To serve, those glimpses came of Fomalhaut, 2 430 
No other : but how serve it ? — authorize 
You and Romano mingle destinies ? 
And straight Romano's angel stood beside 
Me who had else been Boniface's bride, 
For Salinguerra 'twas, with neck low bent, 
And voice lightened to music, (as he meant 
To learn, not teach me,) who withdrew the pall 
From the dead past and straight revived it all. 
Making me see how first Romano waxed, 
Wherefore be waned now, why, if I relaxed 440 

My grasp (even I !) would drop a thing effete, 
Frayed by itself, unequal to complete 
Its course, and counting every step astray 
Again so much. Romano, every way 
Stable, a Lombard House now — why start back 
Into the very outset of its track 3 ? 
This patching principle which late allied 
Our House with other Houses — what beside 

439. my (Tier. So throughout speech. 432. You] him. 435. 
with] the . . . 441. Even I !] think, I ! 445. Lombard] omitted ; 
start] this starting. 



Book III 

Ecelin 
becomes 
a monk 



Taurello's 
arrival 
and 
advice 



however, mention a church called S. Biasio, which he says lay 
outside the walls, between the river and the outer ramparts 
of the city. This cannot be S. Biagio, which is within the walls. 
Can it be S. B/asio, and was there a gate in the outer ramparts 
named after it ? It is not like Browning to invent a name like this . 

1 In the expulsion by Este and Boniface : Taurello recalls 
the scene in Bk. iv. 1. 739 ff. 

2 " A star of the first magnitude in the mouth of the South Fish in 
the second degree of Pisces of the nature of Venus and Mercury" 
(Wilson, Diet, of A strology). I can find no clue to its particular use 
here, or anything regarding its peculiar significance. 

3 The policy of making alliances with neighbouring houses, 
sound enough in the case of the founder of a new house who had 
everything to gain and nothing to lose thereby, became a danger 
in the case of an established family, when alliances meant sub- 



154 



SORDELLO 



Book III 



Taurello's 
story 



The 

Romano's 

policy 



" Concerned the apparition, the first Knight 

" Who followed Conrad hither in such plight 450 

" His utmost wealth was summed in his one steed 1 ? 

" For Ecelo, that prowler, was decreed 

" A task, in the beginning hazardous 

" To him as ever task cau be to us ; 

" But did the weather-beaten thief despair 

" When first our crystal cincture of warm air 

" That binds the Trevisan, — as its spice-belt 

" (Crusaders say) the tract where Jesus dwelt, — 

" Furtive he pierced, and Este was to face — 

" Despaired Saponian 2 strength of Lombard grace ? 460 

" Tried he at making surer aught made sure, 

" Maturing what already was mature ? 

" No ; his heart prompted Ecelo, ' Confront 

" ' Este, inspect yourself. What's nature ? Wont. 

" ' Discard three-parts your nature, and adopt 

" ' The rest as an advantage ! ' Old strength propped 

" The man who first grew Podesta among 

" The Vicentines, no less than, while there sprung 

" His palace up in Padua like a threat, 3 



449. The first] yon grim . . . 
461. Tried heat] said he for . . . 
among. 



451. Summed in] reckoned. 
467. The earliest of Podestas 



division of property and a weakening of the central power. 
Taurello's argument is that the policy of the house of Romano 
is to look higher, to attach themselves to the Kaiser, as Este 
the Pope, not to pursue a peace-at-any-price policy, which is 
weakness. 

1 Rolandino, alluding to Ecelino in 1 188, says: " Amicitiam cum 
Paduanis contraxit et obligavit pignore eis curiam de Honoria, 
quam olim Eccelis avus ejus habuerat ab antiquis a Rege 
Corrado cum quo vererat de Alemannia miles ab uno equo. 

2 Professor Sonnenschein, in his notes on Sordello, gives 
Saponian = Samponian Pass, probably Simplon. Dr Berdoe 
suggests the derivation from Savona, of which Saponian would 
be the Latin form. The meaning is clear, being a Teutonic 
contrast to "Lombard " — it is the equivalent of some such word 
as " Swabian." In the commentary on Sordello by K. M. 
Loudon is this note : " Saponi, a branch of the Ecelin family, 
settled in Lombardy before Sordello's time," but no authority 
is given for the statement. In the index to a map of the Empire 
in Muratori, " Saponaria " is given, but a. note is added saying 
that it is out of the area covered by the map, so we are no wiser. 

3 A portion of the old red-brick palace of Ecelino Balbo is still 
to be seen in Padua, with an inscription putting its date at 1 150 A,p, 



SORDELLO 155 

" Their noblest spied a gi-ace, unnoticed yet 470 Book III 

" In Conrad's crew. Thus far the object gained, 
" Romano was established — has remained — 
For are you not Italian, truly peers 

' With Este ? Azzo better soothes our ears 
Than Alberic ? or is this lion's-crine 

' From over-mounts ' (this yellow hair of mine) 
" ' So weak a graft on Agnes Este's stock ? ' 
" (Thus went he on with something of a mock) 

' Wherefore recoil, then, from the very fate 
" ' Conceded you, refuse to imitate 480 

" ' Your model farther ? Este long since left 
" ' Being mere Este : as a blade its heft, 
" ' Este required the Pope to further him : Palma's 

And you, the Kaiser — whom your father's whim true 

" ' Foregoes or, better, never shall forego policy 

" ' If Palma dare pursue what Ecelo 
" ' Commenced, but Ecelin desists from : just 
" ' As Adelaide of Susa could intrust 
" ' Her donative , — her Piedmont given the Pope, 
" ' Her Alpine-pass for him to shut or ope 490 

" ' 'Twixt France and Italy, — to the superb 
" ' Matilda's perfecting, 1 — so, lest aught curb 
" ' Our Adelaide's great counter-project for 
" ' Giving her Trentine to the Emperor 
" ' With passage here from Germany, — shall you 
" ' Take it, — my slender plodding talent, too ! ' 
" — Urged me Taurello with his half-smile. 

" He 
" As Patron of the scattered family 
" Conveyed me to his Mantua, kept in bruit 
" Azzo's alliances and Richard's suit 500 

" Until, the Kaiser excommunicate, 
" ' Nothing remains,' Taurello said, ' but wait 
" ' Some rash procedure : Palma was the link, 

473. peers] peer. 474. our] its. 489. her Piedmont] 

that's Piedmont to the Pope. 492. curb.] disturb, " so " 
omitted. 499. me] her. 

1 Matilda, the great Countess of Tuscany, transferred most 
of her possessions to the Pope in her lifetime. This gift was the 
foundation of many subsequent Papal claims to lands in Italy. 
Adelaide of Susa was a contemporary, and governed Piedmont, but 
no mention is made of her " entrusting her donation " to Matilda^ 



156 



SORDELLO 



Book III 

Their plot 
to en- 
tangle 

the Guelf 
party 



Taurello's 
last mes- 
sage to 

Ecelin 
and 



The 
answer 



' As Agnes' child, between us, and they shrink 

' From losing Palma : judge if we advance, 

' Your father's method, your inheritance * ! ' 

The day I was betrothed to Boniface 

At Padua by Taurello's self, took place 

The outrage of the Ferrarese : again, 

The day I sought Verona with the train 510 

Agreed for, — by Taurello's policy 

Convicting Richard of the fault, since we 

Were present to annul or to confirm, — 

Richard, whose patience had outstayed its term, 

Quitted Verona for the siege. 2 

" And now 
What glory may engird Sordello's brow 
Through this ? A month since 3 at Oliero slunk 
All that was Ecelin into a monk ; 
But how could Salinguerra so forget 
His liege of thirty years as grudge even yet 520 

One effort to recover him ? He sent 
Forthwith the tidings of this last event 
To Ecelin — declared that he, despite 
The recent folly, recognized his right 
To order Salinguerra : ' Should he wring 
' Its uttermost advantage out, or fling 
' This chance away ? Or were his sons now Head 
' O' the House ? ' Through me Taurello's missive 

sped; 
My father's answer will by me return. 
Behold ! ' For him,' he writes, ' no more concern 530 
' With strife than, for his children, with fresh plots 
' Of Friedrich. Old engagements out he blots 
' For aye : Taurello shall no more subserve, 



507. I] she. So throughout passage. 517. slunk] sunk. 
520. Even] omitted. 522. this last] the Town's . . . 523. 
Ecelin] Oliero. 525. Salinguerra] such proceedings. 527. 
Or were his sons] If not him, who was. 528. Taurello's] 
that . . . 531. fresh] the. 533. Taurello] Him therefore. 



1 I.e. Judge if we advance your inheritance by adhering to your 
father's method. 

a This engagement of Palma to Boniface was only a political 
expedient to gain time, devised by Taurello and acquiesced in 
by Palma herself. See Introd., Bk, i. § ^. 

3 See note on line 58. 



SORDELLO 



157 



540 Palma's 
deter- 
mination 



" ' Nor Ecelin impose.' Lest this unnerve Book III 

" Taurello at this juncture, slack his grip 

" Of Richard, suffer the occasion slip, — 

" I, in his sons' default (who, mating with 

" Este, forsake Romano as the frith 

" Its mainsea for that firmland, sea makes head 

" Against) I stand, Romano, — in their stead 

" Assume the station they desert, and give 

" Still, as the Kaiser's representative, 

" Taurello licence he demands. Midnight — 

" Morning — by noon to-morrow, making light 

" Of the League's issue, we, in some gay weed 

" Like yours, disguised together, may precede 

" The arbitrators to Ferrara : reach 

" Him, let Taurello 's noble accents teach 

" The rest ! Then say if I have misconceived 

" Your destiny, too readily believed 550 

" The Kaiser's cause your own ! " 

And Palma's fled. 
Though no affirmative disturbs the head, 
A dying lamp-flame sinks and rises o'er, 
Like the alighted planet Pollux 1 wore, 
Until, morn breaking, he resolves to be 
Gate-vein of this heart's blood of Lombardy, 
Soul of this body — to wield this aggregate 
Of souls and bodies, and so conquer fate 
Though he should live — a centre of disgust 
Even — apart, core of the outward crust 560 

He vivifies, assimilates. For thus 
I bring Sordello to the rapturous 
Exclaim at the crowd's cry, because one round 
Of life was quite accomplished 2 ; and he found 

557. To wield this] have their aggregate. 

1 Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Jupiter, who were sup- 
posed to aid the Romans in battle, are represented as having 
a star or flame surmounting their helmets by which they were 
identified. 

2 Browning leaves us uncertain whether or not at this moment 
Sordello definitely determined to throw in his lot with the Ghibel- 
line faction, marry Palma, and find his true vocation in the 
Imperial service. It is, however, distinctly suggested — if it 
is so it would throw a - light on the meaning of his " rapturous 
exclaim" which would probably refer to line 324: "Ferrara's 
succoured Palma" — meaning that Sordello's adoption of the 



Sordello 
resolves 
on action 



158 SORDELLO 

Book III Not only that a soul, whate'er its might, 
Is insufficient to its own delight, 
Both in corporeal organs and in skill 
By means of such to body forth its Will 1 — 
And, after, insufficient to apprize 
Men of that Will, oblige them recognize 57< 

The Hid by the Revealed — but that, — the last 
Nor lightest of the struggles overpast, — 
Will, he bade abdicate, which would not void 
The throne, might sit there, suffer he enjoyed 
Mankind, a varied and divine array 
Incapable of homage, the first way, 
Nor fit to render incidentally 
By im- Tribute connived at, taken by the by, 
. P°^?S In joys. If thus with warrant to rescind 
not by Tk e ignominious exile of mankind — 58c 

revealing Whose proper service, ascertained intact 
his soul As yet, (to be by him themselves made act, 
Not watch Sordello acting each of. them) 
Was to secure — if the true diadem 
Seemed imminent while our Sordello drank 
The wisdom of that golden Palma, — thank 
Verona's Lady in her citadel 
Founded by Gaulish Brennus, legends tell : 
And truly when she left him, the sun reared 
A head like the first clamberer's who peered 590 

' A-top the Capitol, his face on flame 

573. Will, he bade] His will, bade. 575. Mankind] The 
same . . . 579. with warrant to] thus warranted . . . 

Ghibelline cause was to be its salvation. This interpretation, 
though sounding far-fetched, would be quite in keeping with 
Sordello's character and self-estimate. 

1 Sordello discovers that a soul cannot realize itself unless it 
has some instrument such as mankind to carry out its Will ; 
and that it cannot make men see the greatness of that Will except 
in so far as it reveals itself in action ; and thirdly, that his Will 
which he thought to be a failure is still an existent force. And 
though mankind are not capable either of appreciating its power 
by his first method, self-revealment, nor even of rendering 
fit homage to its self-expression in song, yet he sees that if he 
adopts Palma's line of action and assumes the leadership of the 
Ghibelline party, he can enforce his Will upon them in a new way 
hitherto untried, by making them act out what he conceives. 
If this course still remains open to him, and thus a chance is still 
left to him to reveal his greatness, thank Verona's lady, etc., etc. 



SORDELLO 159 

With triumph, triumphing till Manlius came. 1 Book III 

Nor slight too much my rhymes — " that spring, dispread, 

" Dispart, disperse, lingermg over head The 

" Like an escape of angels a ! " Rather say, Digres- 

My transcendental platan 3 ! mounting gay 

(An archimage so courts a novice-queen) 

With tremulous silvered trunk, whence branches sheen 

Laugh out, thick-foliaged next, a-shiver soon 

With coloured buds, then glowing like the moon 600 

One mild flame, — last a pause, a burst, and all 

Her ivory limbs are smothered by a fall, 

Bloom-flinders and fruit-sparkles and leaf-dust, 

Ending the weird work prosecuted just 

For her amusement ; he decrepit, stark, 

Dozes ; her uncontrolled delight may mark 

Apart— 4 

Yet not so, surely never so 
Only, as good my soul were suffered go 
O'er the lagune : forth fare thee, put aside — Will 

Entrance thy synod, as a god may glide 610 Sord< [llo 

Out of the world he fills, and leave it mute finished ? 

For myriad ages as we men compute, Yes 

Returning into it without a break 

1 Brennus won the battle of Allia (b.c. 390) against the Romans, 
and marched on Rome. They scaled the face of the Tarpeian 
rock (on which the capitol was situated) by night, and nearly 
surprised the garrison. Manlius, however, awaked by the noise 
of the sacred geese in the temple of Juno, sprang to arms and gave 
the alarm, hurling down the foremost climber. On the Piazza 
Erbe is an ancient statue on a fountain, commonly called the 
" Madonna Verona." It is said to have been discovered on the 
site of the old capitol, now occupied by the Castel di S. Pietro. 
The allusion here seems to mean that Sordello had to thank "the 
genius of the place " for his inspiration — his true genius seems, 
however, to have been Palma. 

2 The lines are quoted from Bk. i. 883, where they describe 
Sordello's songs. 

3 That is, his poem Sordello, unfinished as yet. Platan is 
plane-tree ; transcendental may either refer to the psychological 
nature of the poem or to the fact that much of it is as yet existent 
only in the poet's imagination. 

* Browning compares the unfinished Sordello to one of the 
wonderful creations of the Eastern fakirs, which appear and 
disappear at the will of the magician. Will Sordello disappear 
or will it become a reality. See Introd., Bk. iii. Part ii. 



160 SORDELLO 

Book III O' the consciousness ! They sleep, and I awake 
O'er the lagune, being at Venice. 1 

Note 
In just such songs as Eglamor (say) wrote 
With heart and soul and strength, for he believed 
Himself achieving all to be achieved 
By singer — in such songs you find alone 
Completeness, judge the song and singer one, 620 

And either purpose answered, his in it 
Or its in him : while from true works (to wit 
Sordello's dream-performances that will 
Never be more than dreamed) escapes there still 
True Some proof, the singer's proper life was 'neath 
poems The life his song exhibits, this a sheath 
1 ^ rfct T° that ; a passion and a knowledge far 
impe ec j ranscen< ji n g these, majestic as they are, 
Smouldered 2 ; his lay was but an episode 
In the bard's life : which evidence you owed 630 

To some slight weariness, some looking-off 
Or start-away. The childish skit or scoff 
In " Charlemagne," (his poem, dreamed divine 
In every point except one silly line 
About the restiff daughters) 3 — what may lurk 

615. Being at Venice] omitted : Sordello said once, note. 624. 
Never be, fi.] Be never more than dream. 625. life was] fe'sil 
beneath. 631. Some looking-off] a looking-off. 634. silly] restive. 
635. reads : (Those daughters !) What significance may lurk. 

1 Yes, it shall be finished, but for a time he will leave the 
medaeival world and return to modern life : he can always go back 
again without any fear of loss or incompleteness and finish it. 
Browning went on his first journey to Italy when Sordello was 
half-finished, and the rest of the book records his musings on 
the true function of the poet and incidentally on the fate of 
Sordello. " They sleep," i.e. the characters in Sordello, in whose 
world he has lived while writing it. " I " is, of course, Browning 
himself, who speaks in his own person for the rest of the book. 

8 The true poet is always greater than his poems : compare 
the contemporary description of Chatham's oratory : " That it 
impressed every hearer with the conviction that there was some- 
thing in him even finer than his words ; that the man was in- 
finitely greater than the orator " (Chatham, Frederic Harrison, 

p. 19). 

8 They were the subject of much gossip : it was said Charle- 
magne would not let them marry, as he could not bear them to 
leave him. The poem is an invention of Browning's, the historical 
Sordello never wrote any poem on this subject. 



SORDELLO 161 

In that ? " My life commenced before this work," Book IH 

(So I interpret the significance 

Of the bard's start aside and look askance) 

" My life continues after : on I fare The 

" With no more stopping, possibly, no care 640 reason 

" To note the undercurrent, the why and how, 

" Where, when, o' the deeper life, as thus just now, 

" But, silent, shall I cease to live ? Alas 

" For you ! who sigh, ' When shall it come to pass 

" ' We" read that story ? How will he compress 

" ' The future gains, his life's true business, 

" ' Into the better lay which — that one flout, 

" ' Howe'er inopportune it be, lets out — 

" ' Engrosses him already, though professed 

" ' To meditate with us eternal rest, 650 

" ' And partnership in all his life has found ? ' " 

'Tis but a sailor's promise, weather-bound : 

" Strike sail, slip cable, here the bark be moored 

" For once, the awning stretched, the poles assured ! 

" Noontide above ; except the wave's crisp dash, The poet 

" Or buzz of colibri, 1 or tortoise splash, u ^ e the 

" The margin's silent : out with every spoil or 

" Made in our tracking, coil by mighty coil, 

" This serpent of a river to his head 

" I' the midst ! Admire each treasure, as we spread 660 

" The bank, to help us tell our history 

" Aright : give ear, endeavour to descry 

" The groves of giant rushes, how they grew 

" Like demons' endlong tresses we sailed through, 

" What mountains yawned, forests to give us vent 

" Opened, each doleful side, yet on we went 

" Till . . . may that beetle (shake your cap) attest 

" The springing of a land-wind from the West 2 ! " 

637-8] omitted. 641-3 reads — 

" To jot down says the bard the why and how 
And where and when of life as I do now : 
But shall I cease to live for that ! Alas." 

646. gains] years. 651-2.] omitted. 653. bark be] galley's 
moored. 661. bank] turf. 662. endeavour] then, gentles, and 
descry. 666. we] you. 

1 Humming birds. 

a No man, says Browning, is ever allowed to reveal himself in 
full. Sometimes after long wanderings he seems to cast anchor 

L 



162 SORDELLO 

Book III — Wherefore ? Ah yes, you frolic it to-day ! 

To-morrow, and, the pageant moved away 67c 

Down to the poorest tent-pole, we and you 
Part company : no other may pursue 
Eastward your voyage, be informed what fate 
Intends, if triumph or decline await 
The tempter of the everlasting steppe. 
I muse this on a ruined palace-step 
At Venice : why should I break off, nor sit 
Longer upon my step, exhaust the fit 
England gave birth to ? Who's adorable 

Enough reclaim a 1 no Sordello's Will 680 

Alack ! — be queen to me ? That Bassanese 

Who will Busied among her smoking fruit-boats ? These 
ins E ir , e Perhaps from our delicious Asolo 
comple- Wn° twinkle, pigeons o'er the portico 
tion ? Not prettier, bind June lilies into sheaves 

To deck the bridge-side chapel, dropping leaves 
Soiled by their own loose gold-meal ? Ah, beneath 
The cool arch stoops she, brownest cheek ! Her wreath 
Endures a month — a half-month — if I make 
A queen of her, continue for her sake 690 

Sordello's story ? Nay, that Paduan girl 
Splashes with barer legs where a live whirl 
In the dead black Giudecca 2 proves sea-weed 
Drifting has sucked down three, four, all indeed 
Save one pale-red striped, pale-blue turbaned post 

676. muse, ruined] sung, empty. 685. June] late. 

at last and set to work to unload the treasures he has gained : 
but the work half done, some apparently trivial circumstance, 
nevertheless irresistible, sets him oft again. Fate drives him on — 
the tempter of the everlasting steppe — always a mystery. How- 
ever much man's life may appear an open book, there are always 
pages sealed no man may read. 

It is characteristic of Browning that man's life ever faces 
eastward (673) towards the rising Sun. Contrast Wordsworth — 

" The youth who daily farther from the East 
Must travel . . ." 

1 A " Browning." The inspiration which has half completed 
Sordello has given out and he is wondering whence will come the 
new impetus. The digression up to the close of this passage is 
a kind of apology or vindication of his cessation of composition. 

2 The canal della Guidecca, an island off Venice. 



SORDELLO 163 

For gondolas. Book III 

You sad dishevelled ghost 1 
That pluck at me and point, are you advised 
I breathe ? Let stay those girls (e'en her disguised 
— Jewels i' the locks that love no crownet like 
Their native field-buds and the green wheat-spike, 700 Mater 
So fair !• — who left this end of June's turmoil, dolorosa 

Shook off, as might a lily its gold soil, appears 

Pomp, save a foolish gem or two, and free 
In dream, came join the peasants o'er the sea). 
Look they too happy, too tricked out ? Confess 
There is such niggard stock of happiness 
To share, that, do one's uttermost, dear wretch, 
One labours ineffectually to stretch 
It o'er you so that mother and children, both 
May equitably flaunt the sumpter-cloth 2 ! 710 

Divide the robe yet farther : be content 
With seeing just a score pre-eminent 
Through shreds of it, acknowledged happy wights, 
Engrossing what should furnish all, by rights ! 
For, these in evidence, you clearlier claim 

A like garb for the rest, — grace all, the same His ideal 

As these my peasants. I ask youth and strength for man 

And health for each of you, not more — at length 
Grown wise, who asked at home that the. whole race 
Might add the spirit's to the body's grace, 720 

And all be dizened out as chiefs and bards. 
But in this magic weather one discards 
Much old requirement. 3 Venice seems a type 

704. In dream] omitted : the " kissing " sea inserted. 706. 
There is] You have ... 711. Divide] No: tear the, etc. 

112. just a] some few . . 715-723] omitted. 

" At home we dizen scholars, chiefs and kings, 
But in this magic weather hardly clings 
The old garb gracefully." Inserted. 

1 This is the symbolic figure representing suffering humanity ; 
see Introduction, Bk. iii. Part ii. 

2 A sumpter is a horse or mule used to carry goods — the sumpter- 
cloth would be the cloth stretched over the packs so carried : 
used here as equivalent for happiness, the supply of which is too 
small for everyone to get a share. 

3 Browning's early optimism has been modified, but the richness 
of Italy recalls his old ideal only to be destroyed by the thought 
of the misery he has left behind him in England. The reading 



164 SORDELLO 

Book III Of Life — 'twixt blue and blue extends, a stripe, 

As Life, the somewhat, hangs 'twixt nought and nought : 

Tis Venice, and 'tis Life — as good you sought 

To spare me the Piazza's slippery stone 

Or keep me to the unchoked canals alone, 

As hinder Life the evil with the good 

Which make up Living, rightly understood. 730 

Only, do finish something ! Peasants, queens, 

Take them, made happy by whatever means, 

Parade them for the common credit, vouch 

That a luckless residue, we send to crouch 

His early In corners out of sight, was just as framed 

optimism p or happiness, its portion might have claimed 
As well, and so, obtaining joy, had stalked 
Fastuous as any x ! — such my project, baulked 
Already ; I hardly venture to adjust 
The first rags, when you find me. 2 To mistrust 740 
Me ! — nor unreasonably. You, no doubt, 
Have the true knack of tiring suitors out 
With those thin lips on tremble, lashless eyes 
Mater Inveterately tear-shot :" there, be wise, 

Dolorosa Mistress of mine, there, there, as if I meant 

forted ^ ou uasu ^ ' — shall your friend (not slave) be shent 
For speaking home ? Beside, care-bit erased 
Broken-up beauties ever took my taste 

728 ff. reads : 

" Or stay me thrid her cross canals alone. 
As hinder life what seems the single good 
Sole purpose, one thing to be understood 
Of life — best be thy Peasants, etc." 

737 reads : " And so, could he concede that portion, stalked." 
740 reads : " A lappet when I find you." 

of the first edition shows more clearly the contrast in the poet's 
mind between the two countries ; how the English definition 
of the happy ones, the rich and the powerful and the learned, 
hardly suits Italy, where a more generous climate seems to give 
at least the working minimum of happiness even to the poorest. 

1 His first idea was to call men happy on the whole, and to 
explain away the lot of the " luckless residue " on the ground that 
they were framed for happiness and but for their own fault 
would have been so. 

2 So it is with most people. A concrete instance of need will 
usually break down the best reasoning about the evil of " indis- 
criminate charity " — sentiment is stronger than reason. 



ing man 



SORDELLO 165 

Supremely ; and I love you more, far more Book III 

Than her I looked should foot Life's temple-floor. 750 

Years ago, leagues at distance, when and where 

A whisper came, " Let others seek ! — thy care 

" Is found, thy life's provision ; if thy race 

" Should be thy mistress, and into one face, 

" The many faces crowd ? " Ah, had I, judge, He will 

Or no, your secret ? Rough apparel — grudge be P°?t 

All ornaments save tag or tassel worn '' l!m: '" 

To hint we are not thoroughly forlorn — 

Slouch bonnet, unloop mantle, careless go 

Alone (that's saddest, but it must be so) 760 

Through Venice, sing now and now glance aside, 

Aught desultory or undignified, 1 — 

Then, ravishingest lady, will you pass 

Or not each formidable group, the mass 

Before the Basilic (that feast gone by, 

God's great day of the Corpus Domini) 

And, wistfully foregoing proper men, 

Come timid up to me for alms 2 ? And then 

The luxury to hesitate, feign do 

752. Let others seek] Seek others since . . . 753. thy] a. 
786 reads] " God's day, the great June Corpus Domini." 

1 This can hardly be a personal portrait, remembering the 
description given of him just at this time by Mrs Bridell-Fox : 
" He was then slim and dark and very handsome, and — may I 
hint it — just a trifle of a dandy, addicted to lemon coloured gloves 
and such things, quite the glass of fashion and the mould of form ! 
Duff says Browning is describing himself as the Untidy Poet, 
his style being the garments. A better explanation seems to me 
to lie in the idea that untidiness here refers rather to a certain 
freedom from conventions, to his being emphatically an ordinary 
man, to whom ordinary needs and sufferings appeal, one who can 
be approached by anybody — just one of the crowd who pass 
unnoticed. This also lends point to the lines that follow, that 
suffering humanity approaches him rather than the great ones and 
makes her appeal. Cf. Matthew Arnold's Sonnet, West London. 

" Above her state this spirit soars, 
She will not ask of aliens but of friends. 
Of sharers in a common human fate. 
She turns from that cold succour which attends 
The unknown little from the unknowing great 
And points us to a better time than ours." 

2 The passage suggests that it is to the poet not to those who 
most profess to help them, the nobility and the Church, that the 
masses must look for the real amelioration of their lot 



166 SORDELLO 

Book III Some unexampled grace ! — when, whom but you 770 
Dare I bestow your own upon ? And hear 
Further before you say, it is to sneer 
I call you ravishing ; for I regret 
Little that she, whose early foot was set 
Forth as she'd plant it on a pedestal, 
Now, i' the silent city, seems to fall 
Toward me — no wreath, only a lip's unrest 
To quiet, surcharged eyelids to be pressed 
Dry of their tears upon my bosom. Strange 
Such sad chance should produce in thee such change, 780 
My love ! Warped souls and bodies ! yet God spoke 
Of right-hand, foot and eye — selects our yoke, 
Sordello, as your poetship may find x ! 
So, sleep upon my shoulder, child, nor mind 
Their foolish talk ; we'll manage reinstate 
Your old worth ; ask moreover, when they prate 
His de- Of evil men past hope, " Don't each contrive, 
fence of •• D eS pite the evil you abuse, to live ? — 
evl ' " Keeping, each losel, through a maze of lies, 

" His own conceit of truth ? to which he hies 790 

" By obscure windings, tortuous, if you will, 

" But to himself not inaccessible ; 

" He sees truth, and his lies are for the crowd 

" Who cannot see ; some fancied right allowed 

" His vilest wrong, empowered the losel clutch 

" One pleasure from a multitude of such 

" Denied him." Then assert, " All men appear 

" To think all better than themselves, by here 

772. Further] Me out . . . 786. Your old worth] The matter. 
793. truth] it. 795. losel] fellow. 

1 " To be the poet of suffering humanity, as duty bids him, 
Browning must sacrifice a good deal of what one expects to find 
in poetry and consequently a measure of popularity (Duff)." 
This does not seem to me the meaning so much as that what 
is passing in the poet's mind is the thought of how much suffering 
among men is due to their refusal to cut off the offending member : 
to the fact that sin brings its own punishment and neglect of 
God's laws produces warped souls and bodies. So in a higher 
sense the refusal to use great abilities in the service of others 
(Sordello's fault), to seek the crown and avoid the cross, will like- 
wise brings its own reward. Browning's perception that man's 
misery is partly due to his own fault only serves to deepen his 
pity and strengthen their claim upon him for help. 



SORDELLO 



167 



The 

crime of 
sham 
poets 



" Trusting a crowd they wrong ; but really," say, Book III 

" All men think all men stupider than they, 800 

" Since save themselves no other comprehends 
" The complicated scheme to make amends 
" — Evil, the scheme by which, thro' Ignorance, 
" Good labours to exist." A slight advance, — 
Merely to find the sickness you die through, 
And nought beside ! but if one can't eschew 
One's portion in the common lot, at least 
One can avoid an ignorance increased 
Tenfold by dealing out hint after hint 
How nought were like dispensing without stint 810 

The water of life — so easy to dispense 
Beside, when one has probed the centre whence 
Commotion's born — could tell you of it all x ! 
" — Meantime, just meditate my madrigal 
" O' the mugwort that conceals a dewdrop safe ! " 
What, dullard ? we and you in smothery chafe, 
Babes, baldheads, stumbled thus far into Zin 2 
The Horrid, getting neither oat nor in, 
A hungry sun above us, sands that bung 
Our throats,— each dromedary lolls a tongue, 820 

Each camel churns a sick and frothy chap, 
And you, 'twixt tales of Potiphar's mishap, 
And sonnets on the earliest ass that spoke, 
— Remark, you wonder any one needs choke 
With founts about ! Potsherd him, Gibeonites 3 ! 
819. that bung] among. 

1 See Introduction, Bk. iii. Pt. ii. Browning's point in this 
passage is that the sin of the ignorant and uneducated, though 
bad enough, is far less blameworthy than that of those who 
might help them if they would, but prefer ease and elegance to 
work. It is the misuse of abilities that angers Browning, and 
most of all that type of wealthy ignorance which wonders why 
if the poor have no bread they don't eat cake ! 

8 This passage has the incidents connected with the children 
of Israel in the wilderness for its background : in its application 
Browning himself is suggested as the modern Moses trying to 
draw forth once more the fresh stream of poetic inspiration for 
the thirsty people ; in language and feeling it suggests Carlyle's 
Sartor Resartus (see c. ix.), who might almost be associated with 
Browning as " Moses." 

3 Joshua c. ix. " The hewers of wood and drawers of water." 
The idea is that the masses should stone those false poets who, 
instead of devoting their powers to the people, spend their time 
and talents in trumpery minor verse instead of earnest effort. 



168 SORDELLO 

Book III While awkwardly enough your Moses smites 
The rock, though he forego his Promised Land 
Thereby, have Satan claim his carcass, 1 and 
Figure as Metaphysic Poet ... ah, 
Mark ye the dim first oozings ? Meribah ! 830 

Then, quaffing at the fount my courage gained, 
Recall — not that I prompt ye — who explained . . . 2 

" Presumptuous ! " interrupts one. You, not I 
'Tis brother, marvel at and magnify 

What do Such office : " office," quotha ? can we get 

we here ? To the beginning of the office yet ? 

What do we here ? simply experiment 
Each on the other's power and its intent 
When elsewhere tasked, — if this of mine were trucked 
For yours to either's good,— we watch construct, 840 
In short, an engine : with a finished one, 
What i* can do, is all, — nought, how 'tis done. 
But this of ours yet in probation, dusk 
A kernel of strange wheelwork through its husk 
Grows into shape by quarters and by halves ; 
Remark this tooth's spring, wonder what that valve's 
Life an Fall bodes, presume each faculty's device, 

erecting- Make out each other more or less precise — 
stop -pjjg SCO p e f the whole engine's to be proved ; 

829. Figure as] Dance, forsooth. 835. such] mine. 

1 Jude v. 9. " Michael the Archangel, when contending with 
the Devil, he disputed about the body of Moses." 

2 The charge of metaphysical subtlety against Browning was 
frequent, yet he himself describes a Soul's Tragedy as " a wise 
metaphysical play" (Letter to Domett). The point of the 
passage is that his poetry, though condemned as metaphysical, 
and neglected because obscure in style or subject matter, and 
in consequence unpalatable to the milk-and-water style of the 
fashionable poetry of the day — is yet a genuine spring which will 
prove a real blessing — when that time comes let them remember 
who it was first struck the rock ! Browning was only 26 at this 
time. Paracelsus had brought him into repute among the few, 
but he had to get an audience. There is a suggestion both of 
pique and prophecy in the passage. Meribah was where the 
children of Israel were supplied by Moses with water from the 
rock. The word means strife — and the allusion is to the people 
thirsting for real poetry, and then striving for and against, when 
the first dim oozings came ; Browning soon raised a critical 
storm as to the value of his poetry. 



SORDELLO 169 

We die : wnich means to say, the whole's removed, 850 Book III 

Dismounted wheel by wheel, this complex gin, — 

To be set up anew elsewhere, begin 

A task indeed, but with a clearer clime 

Than the murk lodgment of our building time, 

And then, I grant you, it behoves forget 

How 'tis done — all that must amuse us yet 

So long : and, while you turn upon your heel, 

Pray that I be not busy slitting steel 

Or shredding brass, camped on some virgin shore 

Under a cluster of fresh stars, before 860 

I name a tithe o' the wheels I trust to do ! 

So occupied, then, are we : hitherto, 
At present, and a weary while to come. 
The office of ourselves, — nor blind nor dumb, 
And seeing somewhat of man's state, — has been, 
For the worst of us, to say they so have seen ; 
For the better, what it was they saw ; the best 
Impart the gift of seeing to the rest : Man's 

*' So that I glance," says such an one, " around, threefold 

' And there's no face but I can read profound 870 P ower 

' Disclosures in ; this stands for hope, that — fear, 
' And for a speech, a deed in proof, look here x ! 
' ' Stoop, else the strings of blossom, where the nuts 
' ' O'erarch, will blind thee ! Said I not ? She shuts 
' ' Both eyes this time, so close the hazels meet ! 1. Zanze 

' ' Thus, prisoned in the Piombi, 2 I repeat 
' ' Events one rove occasioned, o'er and o'er, 
' ' Putting 'twixt me and madness evermore 
' ' Thy sweet shape, Zanze ! Therefore stoop ! ' 

" ' That's truth ! ' 

859. camped on] upon. 879. Zanze] Elys. 

1 Here follow two pictures illustrative of the poet's art ; the 
power of seeingraen as they are, undeceived by their circumstances 
or appearance and of conveying that power to others. Thus he 
sees the happiness that fills the mind of the young man im- 
prisoned in the dungeons constructed on the leads in Venice 
at the recollection of his Zanze, which no one else would believe ; 
and likewise discerns the lyric gift of Plara the bard, shut in a 
grimy ugly, town, despite his appearance, suggestive of anything 
but a poet. 

2 Horrible cells on the leads of the Ducal Palace at Venice, 
where prisoners were roasted in the sun (Ency. Brit.) . 



170 S0RDELL0 

Book III " (Adjudge you) ' the incarcerated youth 880 

" ' Would say that ! ' 

" Youth ? Plara the bard ? Set down 
2. Plara " That Plara spent his youth in a grim town 
the Bard « whose cramped ill-featured streets huddled about 
" The minster for protection, never out 
" Of its black belfry's shade and its bells' roar. 
" The brighter shone the suburb, — all the more 
" Ugly and absolute that shade's reproof 
" Of any chance escape of joy, — some roof, 
" Taller than they, allowed the rest detect, — 
" Before the sole permitted laugh (suspect 890 

" Who could, 'twas meant for laughter, that ploughed 

cheek's 
" Repulsive gleam !) when the sun stopped both peaks 
" Of the cleft belfry like a fiery wedge, 
" Then sank, a huge flame on its socket edge, 
" With leavings on the grey glass oriel-pane 
" Ghastly some minutes more. No fear of rain — 
" The minster minded that ! in heaps the dust 
" Lay everywhere. This town, the minster's trust, 
" Held Plara ; who, its denizen, bade hail 
" In twice twelve sonnets, Tempe's dewy vale." 900 
" ' Exact the town, the minster and the street ! ' " 
" As all mirth triumphs, sadness means defeat : 
" Lust triumphs and is gay, Love's triumphed o'er 
" And sad : but Lucio's sad. I said before, 
" Love's sad, not Lucio ; one who loves may be 
Happi- " As gay his love has leave to hope, as he 
"Pendent " downcast tnat lusts' desire escapes the springe : 
of circum- " 'Tis of the mood itself I speak, what tinge 
stance " Determines it, else colourless, — or mirth, 

" Or melancholy, as from heaven or earth." 910 

" ' Ay, that's the variation's gist x ! ' 

" Indeed ? 

880. Adjudge] applaud. 885. shade and] shadow or. 886 
reads: "Brighter the sun illumed the," etc. 900. Tempe'sdewy 
vale] Naddo, Tempe's vale. 

1 Happiness, says Browning, is in reality a question of moral 
motive not of circumstance. Mirth or melancholy may be due 
to either a good or evil cause. But the man whose heart is right 
has happiness, even though outwardly sad and apparently de- 



SORDELLO 171 

" Thus far advanced in safety then, proceed ! Book III 

" And having seen too what I saw, be bold 

" And next encounter what I do behold 

" (That's sure) but bid you take on trust 1 l" 

Attack 
The use and purpose of such sights ! Alack, 
Not so unwisely does the crowd dispense 

On Salinguerras praise in preference Thought 

To the Sordellos : men of action, these ! ai "* 

Who, seeing just as little as you please, 920 both™ 

Yet turn that little to account, — engage needed 

With, do not gaze at, — carry on, a stage, 
The work 0' the world, not merely make report 
The work existed ere their day ! In short, 
When at some future no-time a brave band 
Sees, using what it sees, then shake my hand 2 
In heaven, my brother ! Meanwhile where's the hurt 
Of keeping the Makers-see on the alert, 
At whose defection mortals stare aghast 
As though heaven's bounteous windows were slammed 
fast 930 

Incontinent ? Whereas all you, beneath, 

Should scowl at, bruise their lips and break their teeth Sordello : 
Who ply the pullies, for neglecting you 3 : rea l not 

And therefore have I moulded, made anew sham 

914. And next] enough. 917. does] hastes. 924. day] time. 
928. Of keeping] To keep. 932. bruise, etc.] curse them, bruise 
lips, break, etc. 

feated. Retrospectively the passage shows both how the young 
man in the Piombi could be happy in his prison and how Plara, 
shut in the grim town, could write sonnets on Tempe's vale, and 
looking forward it suggests how Sordello, though outwardly a 
failure, yet, because his heart was right, triumphs even in death. 

1 That is the denouement of his Poem Sordello. 

- The ideal will be reached when the thinkers and the doers 
combine for the common purpose of the progress of the race, 
when the sphere of theory and practice are equally recognised 
and defined and their mutual value perceived. 

3 Stern measures are necessary when those who are the chosen 
leaders and teachers of the people neglect their duties and 
prostitute their talents, making men think that Heaven itself 
has deserted them, since those who should be the mouthpiece 
of Divine guidance are silent. This at least may be claimed 
for Sordello, that he is a reality not a sham. 



172 SORDELLO 

Book III A Man, and give him to be turned and tried, 
Be angry with or pleased at. On your side, 
Have ye times, places, actors of your own ? 
Try them upon Sordello when full-grown, 
And then — ah then ! If Hercules first parched 
His foot in Egypt only to be marched 940 

A sacrifice for Jove with pomp to suit, 
What chance have I ? The demigod was mute 
Till, at the altar, where time out of mind 
Such guests became oblations, chaplets twined 
His forehead long enough, and he began 
Slaying the slayers, nor escaped a man. 1 
Take not affront, my gentle audience ! whom 
No Hercules shall make his hecatomb, 
Believe, nor from his brows your chaplet rend — 
That's your kind suffrage, yours, my patron-friend, 950 
Whose great verse blares unintermittent on 
Like your own trumpeter at Marathon, — 
You who, Platsea and Salamis being scant, 

^schylus Put up with /Etna for a stimulant 2 — 

And did well, I acknowledged, as he loomed 

Over the midland sea last month, 3 presumed 

Long, lay demolished in the blazing West 

At eve, while towards him tilting cloudlets pressed 

Like Persian ships at Salamis. Friend, wear 

A crest proud as desert while I declare 960 

935. and give him] delivered. 938. when] once. 950. patron 
friend] nay, yours my friend. 952. your own] any. 953 reads : 
" He'll testify who when Plataeas grew scant." 955. did well] 
well too. 957. Long] all day. 

1 Busiris, King of Egypt, was advised by a prophet, Thrasios 
of Cyprus (who became the first victim) , to sacrifice a stranger 
every year to ward off bad harvests. Hercules, who was passing 
through the land in search of the apples of the Hesperides, 
allowed himself to be bound, broke loose, and slew the king with 
all his sons and followers (Duff). Browning will not turn 
and rend his audience, no matter what reception his poem meets 
with ; he is, on the other hand, grateful for the kind welcome 
received so far. (For the audience see Bk. i. 11. 10-90.) 

8 In the revised edition the lines 950-4 seem to refer to 
Aeschylus, though the reading in the first edition suggests a 
contemporary, i.e. W. S. Landor, which has the support of 
Mrs Orr and the Browning Cyclopaedia. 

8 The Mediterranean. See Mrs Orr, Life, p. 91, for incident 
which probably suggested these lines. 



SORDELLO 173 

Had I a flawless ruby fit to wring Book III 

Tears of its colour from that painted king 

Who lost it, I would, for that smile which went Landor 

To my heart, fling it in the sea, content. 

Wearing your verse in place, an amulet 

Sovereign against all passion, wear and fret 1 ! 

My English Eyebright, 2 if you are not glad 

That, as I stopped my task awhile, the sad 

Dishevelled form, wherein I put mankind 

To come at times and keep my pact in mind, 970 

Renewed me, — hear no crickets in the hedge, Miss 

Nor let a glowworm spot the river's edge Haworth 

At home, and may the summer showers gush 

Without a warning from the missel thrush ! 

So, to our business, now — the fate of such 

As find our common nature — overmuch 

Despised because restricted and unfit 

To bear the burthen they impose on it — 

Cling when they would discard it ; craving strength 

To leap from the allotted world, at length 980 

They do leap, — flounder on without a term, 

Each a god's germ, doomed to remain a germ 

In unexpanded infancy, unless . . . 

But that's the story — dull enough, confess ! 

There might be fitter subjects to allure ; 

Still, neither misconceive my portraiture 

Nor undervalue its adornments quaint : 

962. Tears of its] A tear, its. 963. Who lost] to lose. 966. 
all passion, wear] low-thoughtedness. 975. So, to our business, 
now] For Eyebright what I sing's the fate of such . . . 
981. They do leap] 'Tis left . . . they. 983-987. " unless 
to neither "] omitted ; reads : " assure . . . yourself not mis- 
conceive," etc. 

1 Walter Savage Landor. Polycrates, King of Samos, warned 
that his prosperity would make the gods jealous, flung a treasured 
ruby ring into the sea. It was found seven days after inside a 
fish. Polycrates afterwards suffered a cruel death. The story is 
taken from Herodotus, it also is recorded in Wanley's Wonders 
of the Little World, except that it is there called an emerald. 

2 Letter to Miss Haworth: " You will see Sordello in a trice 
if the fagging fit holds. ... I call you ' Eyebright,' meaning 
a simple and sad sort of translation of ' Euphrasia ' into my 
own language ; folks would know who Euphrasia or Fanny was 
— and I should not know Ianthe or Clemanthe." — Mrs Orr, 
Life, p. 91. 



174 SORDELLO 

Book III What seems a fiend perchance may prove a saint. 1 
Ponder a story ancient pens transmit. 
Then say if you condemn me or acquit. 990 

John the Beloved, banished Antioch 
Tale of For Patmos, bade collectively his flock 
S. John p- arewe ll, but set apart the closing eve 

To comfort those his exile most would grieve. 

He knew : a touching spectacle, that house 

In motion to receive him ! Xanthus' spouse 

You missed, made panther's meat a month since ; but 

Xanthus himself (his nephew 'twas, they shut 

'Twixt boards and sawed asunder) Polycarp, 

Soft Charicle, next year no wheel could warp 1000 

To swear by Caesar's fortune, with the rest 

Were ranged ; thro' whom the grey disciple pressed, 

Busily blessing right and left, just stopped 

To pat one infant's curls, the hangman cropped 

Soon after, reached the portal. On its hinge 

The door turns and he enters : what quick twinge 

Ruins the smiling mouth, those wide eyes fix 

Whereon, why like some spectral candlestick's 

Branch the disciple's arms ? Dead swooned he, woke 

Anon, heaved sigh, made shift to gasp, heart-broke, 1010 

" Get thee behind me, Satan ! Have I toiled 

"To no more purpose ? Is the gospel foiled 

" Here too, and o'er my son's, my Xanthus' hearth, 

" Portrayed with sooty garb and features swarth — 

" Ah Xanthus, am I to thy roof beguiled 

" To see the — the — the Devil domiciled ? " 

Whereto sobbed Xanthus, " Father, 'tis yourself 

" Installed, a limning which our utmost pelf 

" Went to procure against to-morrow's loss ; 

" And that's no twy-prong, but a pastoral cross, 1020 

" You're painted with ! " 

His puckered brows unfold — 
And you shall hear Sordello's story told. 

1 This gives us the key to the line Sordello's conclusion may 
take, of which the story which follows is an illustration. 



BOOK IV 



INTRODUCTION 

The fourth book opens with a picture of the condition 
of Ferrara during the truce in the siege, arranged to 
make terms with Taurello for Count Richard's ransom. 
Tito, the Imperial Pretor, is there with Count Mainard ; 
Montelungo, the Papal Legate, with representatives of all 
the towns in the Lombard league, each with their carroch. 
We get glimpses of the awful desolation of the city, the 
gossip of the people, and the lean mercenaries watching 
with silent interest the arrival of the delegates. Then 
follows a description of the garden of the San Pietro 
palace, with its trees and shrubs and statues, built some 
thirty years ago by Taurello as a home for his bride, 
Retrude. Within, in the vast dreary presence-chamber, 
sits Taurello, waiting to receive the various deputations 
and speculating on the possibility of being able to pacify 
the league without conceding Richard. 

Early that morning Palma and Sordello had arrived 
from Verona and spent some hours in the camp of Este 
outside the walls. It was this visit which first opened 
Sordello's eyes to the real needs of mankind and led to 
a complete change in bis character and opinions, thus 
precipitating the final crisis and catastrophe. Hitherto 
Sordello had viewed mankind as a whole ; his ignorance 
and want of experience had hidden from him the appal- 
ling inequalities and consequent injustices which existed 
throughout society. Now for the first time they are 
forced upon him in their worst form, through the horrors 
of war. The more be looked the wider became the 
chasm between the few and the many, the chiefs and the 
people. The state and pride of the one, the huge 
miseries of the other, oppressed him like a nightmare. 
He began to see at last the immense amount of mere 
spade work to be done before the ground was even 
roughly prepared for the fabric he had thought to raise. 
The perfect symmetry of that purified humanity, like 
M 177 



178 SORDELLO 

Shelley's picture of life, "a dome of many-coloured 
glass," lay shattered at his feet in a million fragments. 
Before anything else could be done a mighty equilibrium 
must be somehow established, the many must share the 
privileges the few had so long possessed. While he 
thus meditated, ere he could suspect, " mankind and he 
were really fused." His vocation is found at last, his 
cause is the " People." 

In thus identifying himself with the masses Sordello 
unconsciously veers round from Ghibelline to Guelf and 
puts the first stumbling-block in the way of his recently 
formed determination to accept Palma's offer and assume 
the headship of the Imperial faction. He begins to 
speculate upon the practical shape his assistance must 
take, and the thougnt crosses his mind that perhaps 
behind all this horror and misery of war there may lie 
high motives and wise schemes for the people's good, 
known only to the real directing minds of the leaders. 
Buoyed up by the hope this thought suggests, he 
determines without delay to seek the people's friends 
— that is, to interview Taurello himself, and probe the 
causes that lie hidden behind this strange welter of 
" means " which appear so ghastly in their cruelty and 
unfairness. 

No doubt Taurello will show, thinks Sordello, how all 
this, sad though it be, is necessary to bring that happi- 
ness to the people which Sordello in his simplicity 
thinks is the underlying motive alike of Emperor and 
Pope. More than this, may not this fatal rivalry 'twixt 
Empire and Papacy be based on some mutual mis- 
understanding ? May it not be his lot to clear away 
such misconception and thus bring peace to men and 
glory to himself ? The interview takes place and 
Sordello learns the truth — 

" Scarce an hour had passed 
when forth Sordello came, older by years 
than at his entry. Unexampled fears 
oppressed him, and he staggered off, blind, mute, 
and deaf, like some fresh mutilated brute 
into Ferrara ! " 

We are not told what Taurello said except by implica- 
tion from its effect upon Sordello, but it was enough to 



SORDELLO 179 

open his eyes at last to the true lot of the people and to 
the utter selfishness and callousness of the great ones of 
the earth towards those who most needed help and 
direction. After this fateful interview Sordello spent 
the rest of the day wandering through Ferrara's streets, 
deep in thought upon the problem as to how best to 
start upon his task. As night drew on great fires were 
lighted in the streets, and mass was said at every carroch. 
He finds his way to that of Verona, where Palma (in 
disguise) meets him. Until far into the night they talk, 
Sordello pleading earnestly with Palma to show him 
that he is wrong, to prove somehow that good lurks 
beneath the bad, that in spite of what he said Taurello 
has the people's good at heart. It is no better when 
from Ghibelline they turn to Guelf, men weighed with 
men and deed with deed, Guelf and Ghibelline are 
proved alike. Neither have a thought beyond them- 
selves, nor a principle — but selfishness and greed. As 
morning breaks Sordello rises : after all, he thinks, his 
inactivity, with which he has so bitterly reproached 
himself, is not the worst. If he has not helped, at least 
he has not injured. And as he thinks of the bitter 
mockery of the two great parties, he dimly wonders 
whether there may not yet be a cause distinct from both 
of them ordained for him, its true discoverer, through 
which may be attained at last the people's good. 

At this point someone presses forward to suggest a 
subject for a ballad, and tells in a garrulous, roundabout 
fashion the story of the Consul Crescentius. During the 
minority of the Emperor, Otho III., Crescentius had 
restored in Rome the traditions of Consular government, 
and from 980 to 988 had expelled the Pope and ruled the 
city with the title of Consul. Betrayed by the Imperial 
promise of a safe conduct, he was finally captured by the 
Emperor after a heroic resistance and put to death. 
The story fires Sordello's imagination, for he finds in it 
the germ of that ideal state independent at once of 
Guelf and Ghibelline, Pope and Emperor, for which he 
has been seeking. Overleaping, as usual, all difficulties, 
and ignoring means and methods, he sees himself at last 
the focus of the world's applause, swaying at his will a 
new-made empire with Rome as its " established point 
of light whence rays traversed the world," 



180 SORDELLO 

" and thus, in the grey twilight, forth he sprung 
To give his thought consistency among 
The very People — let their facts avail — 
Finish the dream grown from the archers' tale ! " 

The middle portion of the book (11. 375-848) is a long 
(unspoken) soliloquy by Taurello. All the morning he 
has been receiving deputations ; first Tito, then Palma 
and Sordello, then Montelungo. One after the other 
they had urged their points of view, and now, when the 
last audience is over, Taurello still sits on — thinking. 
Browning, throwing himself into Taurello as he sits there 
gazing into space and idly playing with the baldric 
received that morning, and which, should he accept it, 
will make him Imperial vicar in Ecelin's stead, gives us 
the whole history of his life from childhood up to the 
present crisis. Incidentally we learn much that throws 
light upon the poem : the cause of Salinguerra's volcanic 
hatred of the house of Este is revealed in the story of 
the kidnapping of Linguetta, Taurello's destined bride ; 
then we have the picture of the burning and flight from 
Vicenza consequent upon Salinguerra's alliance with 
Ecelin and their joint attempt to raise the Vicentines 
against their liege lord, Azzo. Again, in the supposed 
burning of Retrude and her infant son we have the 
apparent reason of Salinguerra's strange self-effacement 
behind the name of Romano and his steadfast refusal 
to fight for his own advantage. 

Interwoven with this " personalia " runs the real 
problem which is troubling Taurello — whether or not to 
accept Frederic's offer and become Imperial vicar. It 
is characteristic of Browning that he should make the 
real difficulty a psychological one. Though Taurello 
puts forward various reasons or excuses why he should 
not accept the offer, such as loyalty to his old friend 
Ecelin or the absurdity of one who has the substance of 
power wanting the shadow of it — " hankering after a 
boy's preferment," or that he is too old or that it is not 
worth it — the real reason is altogether different. The 
one thing which keeps him back and which neutralizes 
every reason why he should accept it is a conviction 
that in spite of his power, ability, and obvious qualifica- 
tions for the post, he is a born servant and not a master, 
that he is one of those who must be under orders in order 



SORDELLO 181 

to shine ; given the veriest shadow of a name under 
which he can work, every faculty he possesses is de- 
veloped to its fullest, but for independent command he 
feels instinctively he is unfit. He calls it " Fate," talks 
of " the land's inevitable Head," puzzles over " the 
reverences that subject us," acknowledges that Ecelin 
has not a tithe of his own ability, fails entirely to ex- 
plain it, but nevertheless accepts it as an inevitable 
decree outweighing every argument urged by Frederic's 
Pretor Tito, as well as the more convincing one of his 
own common sense. How deeply seated this is and how 
unreasonable is shown in the beginning of his soliloquy, 
where the mere arrival of Palma in the presence-chamber 
is sufficient to overthrow completely his new-formed 
fabric of reasons which had almost determined him to 
accept the proffered badge out of hand. Browning 
retains this strange want in Salinguerra to the very end. 
Though it was commonly supposed that his loss of wife 
and child was the cause of this atrophy of his initiative, 
it was not so, for when that loss was once more supplied 
by his recognition of his son Sordello, his first act was to 
shelter himself at once behind his son by swearing fealty 
to him as his overlord. 

" He did not embrace 
Sordello, but he laid Sordello's hand 
on his own eyes, mouth, forehead." 



BOOK THE FOURTH 

Meantime Ferrara lay in rueful case ; BooK IV 

The lady-city, for whose sole embrace 

Her pair of suitors struggled, felt their arms 

A brawny mischief to the fragile charms 

They tugged for — one discovering that to twist 

Her tresses twice or thrice about his wrist The 

Secured a point of vantage — one, how best streets of 

He'd parry that by planting in her breast Ferrara 

His elbow spike — each party too intent 

For noticing, howe'er the battle went, 10 

The conqueror would have but a corpse to kiss. 

" May Boniface be duly damned for this ! " 

— Howled some old Ghibellin, as up he turned, 

From the wet heap of rubbish where they burned 

His house, a little skull with dazzling teeth : 

" A boon, sweet Christ — let Salinguerra seethe 

" In hell for ever, Christ, and let myself 

" Be there to laugh at him ! " — moaned some young 

Guelf 
Stumbling upon a shrivelled hand nailed fast 
To the charred lintel of the doorway, last 20 

His father stood within to bid him speed. 
The thoroughfares were overrun with weed 
— Docks, quitchgrass, loathy mallows no man plants. 

The stranger, none of its inhabitants 
Crept out of doors to taste fresh air again, 
And ask the purpose of a splendid train 
Admitted on a morning ; every town The 

Of the East League was come by envoy down delegate 

To treat for Richard's ransom : here you saw 
The Vicentine, here snowy oxen draw 30 

The Paduan carroch, its vermilion cross 

5. They] each, that] omitted. 9. each party] both parties. 
11. The] Its. but] omitted. 15. skull] scull. 22. were] looked. 
26. and] or. 

X83 



delegates 



184 SORDELLO 

Book IV On its white field. 1 A tip-toe o'er the fosse 
Looked Legate Montelungo wistfully 
After the flock of steeples he might spy 
In Este's time, gone (doubts he) long ago 
To mend the ramparts 2 : sure the laggards know 
The Pope's as good as here ! They paced the streets 
More soberly. At last, " Taurello greets 
" The League," announced a pursuivant,—" will match 
" Its courtesy, and labours to dispatch 40 

" At earliest Tito, 3 Friedrich's Pretor, sent 
" On pressing matters from his post at Trent, 
" With Mainard Count of Tyrol,— simply waits 
" Their going to receive the delegates." 
" Tito ! " Our delegates exchanged a glance, 
And, keeping the main way, admired askance 
The lazy engines of outlandish birth, 
Couched like a king each on its bank of earth — 
Arbalist, manganel and catapult ; 

While stationed by, as waiting a result, 56 

Lean silent gangs of mercenaries ceased 
Working to watch the strangers. " This, at least, 
" Were better spared ; he scarce presumes gainsay 
" The League's decision ! Get our friend away 
Monte- " And profit for the future : how else teach 
lungo's " Fools 'tis not safe to stray within claw's reach 
reflec- « £ re Salinguerra's final gasp be blown ? 

ons „ jj^gg mere convu i s i ve scratches find the bone. 

56. Fools] Azzo. story] omitted. 

1 Verci, in his account of the Battle of Carmignano, fought 
between the Vicentines and Ecelin with the Paduans, mentions 
the Paduan carroccio drawn by its " otto bianchi buoi," above 
which floated the standard " una croce vermiglia in campo 
bianco." 

a There is probably a recollection here of the Parva Chronica 
Ferrariensis, whose author relates how sitting over the fire in 
the winter time he had heard his father tell of thirty-two towers 
in Ferrara pulled down and destroyed, " viderat in civitate 
Ferrariae turres altas xxxii quas mox vidit prosterni et dirui ! " 
Gregoria da Montelungo, the Papal Legate, played an important 
part in the events of those times. He assisted at the final 
capture of Salinguerra in Ferrara in 1240, and was made Arch- 
bishop of Aquileia. He was a very able and energetic man. 

3 Sodegerio de Tito was Podesta of Trent in the Imperialist 
interest. Verci, vol. iii. p. 138. 



SORDELLO 185 

" Who bade him bloody the spent osprey's nare 1 ? " Book IV 

The carrochs halted in the public square. 60 

Pennons of every blazon once a-flaunt, 
Men prattled, freelier that the crested gaunt 
White ostrich with a horse-shoe in her beak 2 
Was missing, and whoever chose might speak 
" Ecelin " boldly out : so,—" Ecelin 

" Needed his wife to swallow half the sin Street- 

" And sickens by himself : the devil's whelp, S ossi P 

" He styles his son, dwindles away, no help 
" From conserves, your fine triple-curded froth 
" Of virgin's blood, your Venice viper-broth — 70 

" Eh ? Jubilate ! "— " Peace ! no little word 
" You utter here that's not distinctly heard 
" Up at Oliero : he was absent sick 
" When we besieged Bassano — who, i' the thick 
" 0' the work, perceived the progress Azzo made, 
" Like Ecelin, through his witch Adelaide ? 
" She managed it so well that, night by night 
" At their bed-foot stood up a soldier-sprite, 
" First fresh, pale by-and-by without a wound, 
" And, when it came with eyes filmed as in swound, 80 
" They knew the place was taken." — " Ominous 
" That Ghibellins should get what cautelous 
" Old Redbeard 3 sought from Azzo's sire to wrench 
" Vainly ; Saint George contrived his town a trench 
" O' the marshes, an impermeable bar." 4 
" — Young Ecelin is meant the tutelar 
" Of Padua, rather ; veins embrace upon 
" His hand like Brenta and Bacchiglion." 
What now ? — " The founts ! God's bread, touch not a 
plank ! 

71. Peace] Tush. 

1 Literally a nostril, here simply as beak. The word in its 
Latin form occurs in the Chronicle of Laurentius in the xiii 
book of his History of Venice in describing the conversation 
between Salinguerra and Ugo da Rambcrti, his lieutenant, at the 
siege of Ferrara in 1240, when Salinguerra was captured. Ugo 
urged peace, to which Salinguerra replied that if they yielded he 
would be killed and Ugo mutilated " sed scias, tibi vero nares 
truncabantur." 

2 The crest of the house of Romano. 

3 Frederic the First — " Barba-Rossa." 

4 The Patron Saint of Ferrara. 



186 SORDELLO 

Book IV " A crawling hell of carrion — every tank 90 

" Choke-full ! — found out just now to Cino's cost 1 — 
" The same who gave Taurello up for lost, 
" And, making no account of fortune's freaks, 
" Refused to budge from Padua then, but sneaks 
" Back now with Concorezzi : 'faith ! they drag 
" Their carroch to San Vitale, plant the flag 
" On his own palace, so adroitly razed 
" He knew it not ; a sort of Guelf folk gazed 
" And laughed apart ; Cino disliked their air — 
" Must pluck up spirit, show he does not care — 100 
Cino's ex- " Seats himself on the tank's edge — will begin 

penence ., To hum ^ m> z ^ Cavaler EceUn— 2 

" A silence ; he gets warmer, clinks to, chime, 

" Now both feet plough the ground, deeper each time, 

" At last, za, za and up with a fierce kick 

" Comes his own mother's face caught by the thick 

" Grey hair about his spur ! " 

Which means, they lift 
The covering, Salinguerra made a shift 
To stretch upon the truth ; as well avoid 
Further disclosures ; leave them thus employed. no 
Our dropping Autumn morning clears apace, 
And poor Ferrara puts a softened face 
On her misfortunes. Let us scale this tall 

The gar- Huge foursquare line of red brick garden-wall 3 
dens of Bastioned within by trees of every sort 
* Pietro O n three sides, slender, spreading, long and short ; 
Each grew as it contrived, the poplar ramped, 
The fig-tree reared itself, — but stark and cramped, 

92. up] side. 113. Let us scale] save one spot. 

•Cino Boccimpane (i. 146). In the list of leading families at 
Ferrara in the Parva Chronica occurs, " In parochia Sancti 
Vitalis Buccimpane habenter. ' ' The incident itself is imaginative. 
Note Browning's accuracy. San Vitale was in the south-east 
corner of Ferrara, next to the San Pietro quarter, where was 
Taurello's palace. 

2 This was Ecelin's war-cry. In describing Ecelin's pounce 
upon Verona in 1227, Rolandino describes how his faction 
within the city raised the cry "ad anna, ad arma, za, za, 
cavaler Ecelin ! " 

3 The south-east quarter of Ferrara is built mostly of old red 
brick, much of which may have come from the old Salinguerra 
palace. 



SORDELLO 187 

Made fools of, like tamed lions : whence, on the edge, Book IV 

Running 'twixt trunk and trunk to smooth one ledge 120 

Of shade, were shrubs inserted, warp and woof, 

Which smothered up that variance. Scale the roof 

Of solid tops, and o'er the slope you slide 

Down to a grassy space level and wide, 

Here and there dotted with a tree, but trees 

Of rarer leaf, each foreigner at esse, 

Set by itself : and in the centre spreads, 

Borne upon three uneasy leopards' heads, 

A laver, broad and shallow, one bright spirt The 

Of water bubbles in. The walls begirt 130 P al a ce 

With trees leave off on either hand ; pursue gar 

Your path along a wondrous avenue 

Those walls abut on, heaped of gleamy stone. 

With aloes leering everywhere, grey-grown 

From many a Moorish summer : how they wind 

Out of the fissures ! likelier to bind 

The building than those rusted cramps which drop 

Already in the eating sunshine. Stop, 

You fleeting shapes above there ! Ah, the pride 

Or else despair of the whole country-side ! 140 

A range of statues, swarming o'er with wasps, 

God, goddess, woman, man, the Greek rough-rasps 

In crumbling Naples marble — meant to look 

Like those Messina marbles Constance x took 

Delight in, or Taurello's self conveyed 

To Mantua for his mistress, Adelaide, — 

A certain font with caryatides 

Since cloistered at Goito ; only, these 

Are up and doing, not abashed, a troop 

Able to right themselves — who see you, stoop 150 

Their arms o' the instant after you ! Unplucked 

By this or that, you pass ; for they conduct 

To terrace raised on terrace, and, between, 

Creatures of brighter mould and braver mien 

Than any yet, the choicest of the Isle 2 

119. like tamed lions] omitted, the edge] very edge. 
142. the] your. 

1 Frederic II.'s mother. 

2 I.e. Sicily, where Frederic II.'s court was and where Taurello 
was married. 



188 SORDELLO 

Book IV No doubt. Here, left a sullen breathing-while, 
The Up-gathered on himself the Fighter stood 
Statues F or his last fight, and, wiping treacherous blood 
Out of the eyelids just held ope beneath 
Those shading fingers in their iron sheath, 160 

Steadied his strengths amid the buzz and stir 
Of the dusk hideous amphitheatre 
At the announcement of his over-match 
To wind the day's diversion up, dispatch 
The pertinacious Gaul : while, limbs one heap, 
The Slave, no breath in her round mouth, watched leap 
Dart after dart forth, as her hero's car 
Clove dizzily the solid of the war 
— Let coil about his knees for pride in him. 
We reach the farthest terrace, and the grim 170 

San Pietro Palace stops us. 1 

Such the state 
Of Salinguerra's plan to emulate 
Sicilian marvels, that his girlish wife 
Retrude still might lead her ancient life 
In her new home : whereat enlarged so much 
Neighbours upon the novel princely touch 
He took, — who here imprisons Boniface. 
Here must the Envoys come to sue for grace : 
And here, emerging from the laybrinth 
Below, Sordello paused beside the plinth 180 

Of the door-pillar. 2 

He had really left 
Verona for the cornfields (a poor theft 

165. The . . . Gaul] Their . . . friend. 180. Sordello] two 
minstrels. 181. He] One. 

1 The site of Salinguerra's palace was in the south-east corner 
of the city, on the ground now occupied by four short streets, 
including the Via Salinguerra and the Via San Pietro. Sur- 
rounded by walls and towers, it embraced the churches of 
S. Pietro, S. Salvadore, and S. Georgio, hence it was called the 
S. Pietro quarter, or sometimes, as in the Parva Chronica, the 
quarter of S. Salvadore. Ferrara is still surrounded by its 
old walls, and the Bastione de S. Pietro is still there. East of 
San Pietro was the San Vitale quarter, where the palace of Cino 
Boccimpane was situated (11. 90-100). Beyond S. Vitale is the 
Bastione di S. Tomaso, probably the " Toms " of Browning 
(Bk. v. 283). 

a According to Palma's arrangement she was with him [see 
Bk. iii. 565]. This is made clear in the 1st edition reading. 



SORDELLO 189 

From the morass) where Este's camp was made * ; Book IV 

The Envoys' march, the Legate's cavalcade — 

All had been seen by him, but scarce as when, — 

Eager for cause to stand aloof from men 

At every point save the fantastic tie Sordello's 

Acknowledged in his boyish sophistry, — reflec- 

He made account of such. A crowd, — he meant f£* s on 

To task the whole of it ; each part's intent 190 crowd 

Concerned him therefore : and, the more he pried, 

The less became Sordello satisfied 

With his own figure at the moment. Sought 

He respite from his task ? Descried he aught 

Novel in the anticipated sight 

Of all these livers upon all delight ? 

This phalanx, as of myriad points combined, 

Whereby he still had imaged the mankind 

His youth was passed in dreams of rivalling, 

His age — in plans to prove at least such thing 200 

Had been so dreamed, — which now he must impress 

With his own will, effect a happiness 

By theirs, — supply a body to his soul 

Thence, and become eventually whole 

With them as he had hoped to be without 2 — 

Made these the mankind he once raved about ? 

Because a few of them were notable, 

Should all be figured worthy note ? As well 

Expect to find Taurello's triple line The 

Of trees a single and prodigious pine. 210 a P?^ al 

Real pines rose here and there ; but, close among, crowd 

Thrust into and mixed up with pines, a throng 

Of shrubs, he saw, — a nameless common sort 

185. All . . . him] Looked cursorily o'er. 198. the] that. 
200. prove : such] show : the. 201. he must] hastened to. 
206. once raved] was mad. 

1 They had spent the earlier hours outside the walls in Este's 
camp. 

2 This is the point where the change from egotist to altruist 
begins to work in Sordello. He feels for the first time the mute 
appeal made by human misery. The crowd which hitherto, since 
they had refused to accept him on his own valuation, he had 
hoped to be without, which he had up to this regarded as a clog 
not worthy of his genius, he now feels to look to him for help. 
The miseries he has witnessed that morning arouse his humanity. 



igo SORDELLO 

Book IV O'erpast in dreams, left out of the report 
And hurried into corners, or at best 
Admitted to be fancied like the rest. 
Reckon that morning's proper chiefs — how few ! 
And yet the people grew, the people grew, 
Grew ever, as if the many there indeed, 
More left behind and most who should succeed, — 220 
Simply in virtue of their mouths and eyes, 
Petty enjoyments and huge miseries, — 
Mingled with, and made veritably great 
Those chiefs : he overlooked not Mainard's state 
Nor Concorezzi's station, 1 but instead 
Of stopping there, each dwindled to be head 
Of infinite and absent Tyrolese 
Or Paduans ; startling all the more, that these 
Seemed passive and disposed of, uncared for, 
Yet doubtless on the whole (like Eglamor) 230 

Smiling ; for if a wealthy man decays 
And out of store of robes must wear, all days, 
Their One tattered suit, alike in sun and shade, 
patience 'Tis commonly some tarnished gay brocade 
Fit for a feast-night's flourish and no more : 
Nor otherwise poor Misery from her store 
Of looks is fain upgather, keep unfurled 
For common wear as she goes through the world, 
The faint remainder of some worn-out smile 
Meant for a feast-night's service merely. 2 While 240 
Crowd upon crowd rose on Sordello thus, — 
(Crowds no way interfering to discuss, 
Much less dispute, life's joys with one employed 
In envying them, — or, if they aught enjoyed, 
Where lingered something indefinable 
In every look and tone, the mirth as well 
As woe, that fixed at once his estimate 
Of the result, their good or bad estate) — 

215. and] fast. 219. if the] with. 221. mouths and] faces. 
224. he overlooked not] no overlooking. 230. like] quoth. 
232. robes] such. 234. gay] fine. 245. Where] There. 

1 Maurisio mentions "Ubertus de Conconezo," a citizen of 
Milan, as Podesta in Vicenza with Alberico da Romano. 

2 What struck Sordello was not so much the misery of the 
people as their almost cheerful acquiescence in their lot. They 
were dumb : numbed by suffering and ill-treatment. 



SORDELLO 191 

Old memories returned with new effect : Book IV 

And the new body, ere he could suspect, 250 

Cohered, mankind and he were really fused, 

The new self seemed impatient to be used 

By him, but utterly another way 

Than that anticipated * : strange to say, 

They were too much below him, more in thrall 

Than he, the adjunct than the principal. 

What booted scattered units ? — here a mind 

And there, which might repay his own to find, 

And stamp, and use ? — a few, howe'er august, 

If all the rest were grovelling in the dust ? 260 

No : first a mighty equilibrium, sure, The idea 

Should he establish, privilege procure ° f Service 

For all, the few had long possessed I He felt uivib 

An error, an exceeding error melt 2 : 

While he was occupied with Mantuan chants, 

Behoved him think of men, and take their wants, 

Such as he now distinguished every side, 

As his own want which might be satisfied, — 

And, after that, think of rare qualities 

Of his own soul demanding exercise. 270 

It followed naturally, through no claim 

On their part, which made virtue of the aim 

At serving them, on his, — that, past retrieve, 

He felt now in their toils, theirs — nor could leave 

Wonder how, in the eagerness to rule, 

Impress his will on mankind, he (the fool !) 

Had never even entertained the thought 

That this his last arrangement might be fraught 

249. returned] flocked, but. 257. units] brilliances. 
258 reads — 

"The mind — of any number he might hope to bind 
And stamp with his own thought, howe'er august. ' ; 

263. For all, the few] For them himself. 269. think of rare] 
of wondrous. 272. It . . naturally] and like demand it longer 
— though no claim. 276. mankind] them. 277. even] omitted : 
" obvious " before thought. 

1 He was to serve, they to command. 

i He realized now that it was service that was needed ; hitherto 
the people had been regarded mainly as a foil to show off his 
greatness and incidentally be bettered in the process; now his 
needs are to be theirs. 



192 SORDELLO 

Book IV With incidental good to them as well, 

And that mankind's delight would help to swell 280 
His own. So, if he sighed, as formerly 
Because the merry time of life must fleet, 
'Twas deeplier now, — for could the crowds repeat 
Their poor experiences ? His hand that shook 
The Was twice to be deplored. "The Legate, look ! 
Legate " With eyes, like fresh-blown thrush-eggs on a thread, 
" Faint-blue and loosely floating in his head, 
" Large tongue, moist open mouth ; and this long while 
" That owner of the idiotic smile 
" Serves them ! " 

He fortunately saw in time 290 

His fault however, and since the office prime 
Includes the secondary — best accept 
Both offices x ; Taurello, its adept, 
Could teach him the preparatory one, 
And how to do what he had fancied done 
Long previously, ere take the greater task 
How render first these people happy ? Ask 
The people's friends 2 : for there must be one good 
One way to it — the Cause ! He understood 
The meaning now of Palma ; why the jar 300 

279-80 reads — 
"With good to them as well : and he should be 
Rejoiced thereat: and if, as formerly He sighed," etc., etc. 
300. Why the jar — else] Else why are — the great ado. 

1 Sordello has not yet put aside altogether the search for 
personal joy as the main end of life ; it is still " the office prime " 
with him. But he has grasped the thought that the way to 
attain it must be through the secondary office of serving the 
people. In their happiness he will find his own. He is thus in a 
half-way position between the pure selfishness which ignored 
others except when they served as a foil to heighten his own 
brilliance, or as a means of momentary gratification by admiring 
and applauding him, and that complete unselfishness which, 
asking no reward, lays down its very life for others. 

2 Sordello's naivete and utter ignorance of human nature 
is nowhere better portrayed than here. With delicious simplicity 
he imputes without hesitation the purest motives of philanthropy 
alike to Kaiser and Pope, to Azzo and Taurello. He goes off 
hot foot to Taurello to get his advice on serving mankind, con- 
vinced in his own mind that the cause of all this struggle is 
" the best way of making the people happy." Poor Sordello ! 



SORDELLO 193 

Else, the ado, the trouble wide and far Book IV 

Of Guelfs and Gbibellins, the Lombard hope 

And Rome's despair ? — 'twixt Emperor and Pope 

The confused shifting sort of Eden tale — 

Hardihood still recurring, still to fail — 

That foreign interloping fiend, this free 

And native overbrooding deity : 

Yet a dire fascination o'er the palms Pope and 

The Kaiser ruined, troubling even the calms Kaiser — 

Of paradise ; or, on the other hand, 310 selfish"! 11 " 

The Pontiff, as the Kaisers understand, 

One snake-like cursed of God to love the ground, 

Whose heavy length breaks in the noon profound 

Some saving tree — which needs the Kaiser, dressed 

As the dislodging angel of that pest : 

Yet flames that pest bedropped, flat head, full fold, 

With coruscating dower of dyes. " Behold 

" The secret, so to speak, and master-spring 

" O' the contest ! — which of the two Powers shall bring 

" Men good, perchance the most good : ay, it may 320 

" Be that ! — the question, which best knows the way." 1 

And hereupon Count Mainard strutted past 
Out of San Pietro ; never seemed the last Their 

Of archers, slingers : and our friend began methods 

To recollect strange modes of serving man — strange 

Arbalist, catapult, brake, manganel, 
And more. " This way of theirs may, — who can tell ? — 
" Need perfecting," said he : " let all be solved 
" At once ! Taurello 'tis, the task devolved 
" On late : confront Taurello ! " 

And at last 330 

He did confront him. Scarce an hour had past 
When forth Sordello came, older by years 
Than at his entry. Unexampled fears 

Oppressed him, and he staggered off, blind, mute The dis- 

And deaf, like some fresh-mutilated brute, ment° n " 

Into Ferrara — not the empty town 
That morning witnessed : he went up and down 

303 Rome's] or its. 309. Even the] thorough. 313. Whose 
heavy length] with lulling eye. 314. which needs] who but . . 
316. Yet flames] Then ? Yet. 323. looked] seemed. 

1 Thus Sordello thinks in his ignorance. 



194 SORDELLO 

Book IV Streets whence the veil had been stript shred by shred, 
So that, in place of huddling with their dead 
Indoors, to answer Salinguerra's ends, 340 

Townsfolk make shift to crawl forth, sit like friends 
With any one. A woman gave him choice 
Of her two daughters, the infantile voice 
Or the dimpled knee, for half a chain, his throat 
Was clasped with ; but an archer knew the coat — 
Its blue cross and eight lilies, — bade beware 
One dogging him in concert with the pair 
Though thrumming on the sleeve that hid his knife. 1 
Night set in early, autumn dews were rife. 
They kindled great fires while the Leaguers' mass 350 
Began at every carroch : he must pass 
Between the kneeling people. Presently 
The carroch of Verona caught his eye 
With purple trappings ; silently he bent 
Over its fire, when voices violent 
Began, " Affirm not whom the youth was like 
" That struck me from the porch : I did not strike 
" Again : I too have chestnut hair 2 ; my kin 

349. were] fell. 350. They kindled great fires] and fires 
were kindled. 357. struck me] striking. 

1 The archer who recognized Sordello's minstrel's coat em- 
broidered with the arms of Romano warned the bravo not to touch 
him. These details of the arms of Romano, Browning drew from 
Verci in his description of the sculptured coat of arms of Ecelin 
in his palace in Padua. On his helmet was depicted a cross which 
was the sign of the Crusader (it was of different colours accord- 
ing to the Crusader's nationality. The Italian Cross was blue, 
the English gold, the German black, and so on). On one half 
of the shield was painted eight lilies. The lily, which later became 
a distinguishing sign of the Guelf party, was at an earlier stage 
used by both parties indiscriminately, possibly as a sign of 
devotion to the Blessed Virgin, to whom Ecelin has already 
dedicated a church at Bassano (see note, Bk. iv. I. 610). His 
words are, " Nella parte davanti apparisce una picciola croce 
. . . nelT una meta del scudo si veggono dipinti otto gigli " 
(Vol. i. p. 273). Browning is incorrect in putting the cross on 
to the coat of Sordello. He would wear the arms of Ecelin 
the Monk, who was not entitled to a cross at all, not having been 
a crusader. The arms to which Verci refers were those of Ecelin 
the Stammerer. The cross was put on the helmet. 

2 " And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and 
the father the child, and the children shall rise up against their 
parents." 



SORDELLO 



195 



370 



" Hate Azzo and stand up for Ecelin. Book IV 

" Here, minstrel, drive bad thoughts away ! Sing ! 
Take 360 

" My glove for guerdon ! " And for that man's sake He meets 
He turned : " A song of Eglamor's ! " — scarce named, Palma 
When, " Our Sordello's rather ! " — all exclaimed ; 
" Is not SordeUo famousest for rhyme ? " 
He had been happy to deny, this time, — 
Profess as heretofore the aching head 
And failing heart, — suspect that in his stead 
Some true Apollo had the charge of them, 
Was champion to reward or to condemn, 
So his intolerable risk might shift 
Or share itself ; but Naddo's precious gift 
Of gifts, he owned, be certain 1 ! At the close— 
" I made that," said he to a youth who rose 
As if to hear : 'twas Palma through the band 
Conducted bim in silence by her hand. 

Back now for Salinguerra. Tito of Trent 
Gave place to Palma and her friend, who went 
In turn at Montelungo's visit : one 
After the other were they come and gone, — 
These spokesmen for the Kaiser and the Pope, 
This incarnation of the People's hope, 
Sordello, — all the say of each was said ; 
And Salinguerra sat,— -himself instead 
Of these to talk with, lingered musing yet. 
'Twas a drear vast presence-chamber roughly set 
In order for the morning's use ; full face, 
The Kaiser's ominous sign-mark had first place, 
The crowned grim twy-necked eagle, coarsely-blacked 
With ochre on the naked wall ; nor lacked 
Romano's green and yellow either side 2 ; 390 

372. he owned] returned. 375. her] the. 377. to Palma and 
her friend] remember to the pair. 380-384.] omitted. 386. 
full face] you met. 387.] omitted. 388. crowned] black. 390. 
Romanos] There . . . tokens. 

1 The Verona carroch was, of course, Guelf , hence his danger ; 
but Naddo's " gift of gifts," common-sense, saved him, and he 
did not betray himself. 

a The colours of Romano are alluded to in Bk. ii. 1. 909, in 
describing the alleged dismissal of Taurello, who now " might 
doff the green and yellow." This is drawn from Verci 



380 



Taurello 
in the 
presence 
chamber 



196 SORDELLO 

Book IV But the new token Tito brought had tried 
The Legate's patience — nay, if Palma knew 
What Salinguerra almost meant to do 
Until the sight of her restored his lip 
A certain half-smile, three months' chieftainship 
Had banished 1 ! Afterward, the Legate found 
No change in him, nor asked what badge he wound 
And unwound carelessly. Now sat the Chief 
Silent as when our couple left, whose brief 
Encounter wrought so opportune effect 400 

In thoughts he summoned not, nor would reject, 2 
Though time 'twas now if ever, to pause — fix 
On any sort of ending : wiles and tricks 
Exhausted, judge ! his charge, the crazy town, 
Just managed to be hindered crashing down— 
His last sound troops ranged — care observed to post 
His best of the maimed soldiers innermost — 
So much was plain enough, but somehow struck 
Him not before. And now with this strange luck 
Of Tito's news, rewarding his address 410 

So well, what thought he of ? — how the success 
His With Friedrich's rescript there, would either hush 

thoughts Old Ecelin's scruples, bring the manly flush 

To his young son's white cheek, or, last, exempt 
Himself from telling what there was to tempt 3 ? 

391. token] symbol. 407. best] last. 

1 In Taurello's long soliloquy, which occupies the main portion 
of the rest of the book, the real question which is worrying him 
is whether or not he shall accept the position offered to him by 
Tito, on behalf of the Emperor, of Vicar-General, and thereby 
assume in place of Ecelin the leadership of the Imperial party in 
N. Italy. At first he almost accepted it out of hand, when the 
opportune appearance of Palma put him in his place again. After 
that he cannot persuade himself to take it, though what alterna- 
tive course to take he cannot see. His arguments against his 
innate conviction that he is born to serve, not rule, are worked 
out with great skill and subtlety. Finally he puts the whole 
question on one side, to deal with the solution of the immediate 
question whether he can pacify the league without conceding 
Richard. 

2 They had unconsciously stopped his acceptance of the 
baldric for himself. In this case " the man who hesitates is 
lost." 

» After Tito's splendid offer one might naturally have ex- 
pected that Taurello would be vaguely calculating the effect 
of his acceptance on those mainly concerned by it ; how it 



SORDELLO 197 

No : that this minstrel was Romano's last Book IV 

Servant— himself the first ! Could he contrast 

The whole ! — that minstrel's thirty years just spent 

In doing nought, their notablest event 

This morning's journey hither, as I told — 420 

Who yet was lean, outworn and really old, 

A stammering awkward man that scarce dared arise 

His eye before the magisterial gaze — 

And Salinguerra with his fears and hopes 

Of sixty years, his Emperors and Popes, 

Cares and contrivances, yet, you would say, 

'Twas a youth nonchalantly looked away 

Through the embrasure northward o'er the sick 

Expostulating trees — so agile, quick 

And graceful turned the head on the broad chest 430 

Encased in pliant steel, his constant vest, 

Whence split the sun off in a spray of fire 

Across the room ; and, loosened of its tire 

Of steel, that head let breathe the comely brown 

Large massive locks discoloured as if a crown 

Encircled them, so frayed the basnet where 

A sharp white line divided clean the hair ; 

Glossy above, glossy below, it swept His a P" 

Curling and fine about a brow thus kept pearance 

Calm, laid coat upon coat, marble and sound : 440 

This was the mystic mark the Tuscan found, 

Mused of, turned over books about. Square-faced, 

No lion more ; two vivid eyes, enchased 

In hollows filled with many a shade and streak 

Settling from the bold nose and bearded cheek. 

Nor might the half-smile reach them that deformed 

A lip supremely perfect else — unwarmed, 

Unwidened, less or more ; indifferent 

418. years just] autumns. 420. I] we. 422. man] youth. 
423. the] that. 434. breathe] see. 



would either hush old Ecelin's scruples about coming out into 
the world again, to see his subordinate put over his head ; or 
fill his son at last with a desire to take his proper place ; or, lastly, 
how it would save him having to make any awkward explana- 
tions either to Ecelin or anyone else. But, as a matter of fact, 
it only drove home the truth he had always known, though never 
consciously admitted, that he was not a leader but a servant : 
that long years of service had atrophied his sense of initiative, 
so that now the chance came he could not take it. 



198 SORDELLO 

Book IV Whether on trees or men his thoughts were bent, 

Thoughts rarely, after all, in trim and train 450 

As now : a period was fulfilled again : 
Of such, a series made his life, compressed 
In each, one story serving for the rest — 
How his life-streams rolling arrived at last 
At the barrier, whence, were it once overpast, 
They would emerge, a river to the end, — 
Gathered themselves up, paused, bade fate befriend, 
Took the leap, hung a minute at the height, 
Then fell back to oblivion infinite : 
Therefore he smiled. Beyond stretched garden-grounds 
Where late the adversary, breaking bounds, 461 

Had gained him an occasion, That above, 
That eagle, testified he could improve 
Effectually. The Kaiser's symbol lay 
Beside bis rescript, a new badge by way 
Of baldric ; while, — another thing that marred 
Alike emprke, achievement and reward, — 
Ecelin's missive was conspicuous too. 
The What past life did those flying thoughts pursue ? 

fan !alin- ^ s ^ s ' * ew names m Mantua half so old ; 470 

guerra But at Ferrara, where his sires enrolled 
It latterly, the Adelardi spared 
No pains to rival them : both factions shared 
Ferrara, so that, counted out, 'twould yield 
A product very like the city's shield, 
Half black and white, or Ghibellin and Guelf 
As after Salinguerra styled himself 
And Este who, till Marchesalla died, 
(Last of the Adelardi) — never tried 
His fortune there : with Marchesalla's child x 480 

Would pass, — could Blacks and Whites be reconciled 

454-459] omitted. 462. had gained] procured. 473. No pains] 
Few means. 480-481. With . . . would pass] but . . . transmits. 

1 Browning has retained the historical facts while altering the 
names. Marchesalla was the daughter, not the father, whose 
right name was Guglielm. Linguetta was the name of Guglielm's 
only niece, his sister's child. Este kidnapped Marchesalla 
from the house of Torello Salinguerra, Taurello's father, to whom 
she had been entrusted (she was seven years old) at her father's 
death, with a view to marrying her to Taurello when old enough. 
The story is told in the Chronica Parva Ferrariensis. See 
Introd., § n. 



SORDELLO 199 

And young Taurello wed Linguetta, — wealth Book IV 

And sway to a sole grasp. Each treats by stealth 

Already : when the Guelfs, the Ravennese 

Arrive, assault the Pietro quarter, seize 

Linguetta, and are gone ! Men's first dismay 

Abated somewhat, hurries down, to lay 

The after indignation, Boniface, 

This Richard's father. 1 " Learn the full disgrace The 

" Averted, ere you blame us Guelfs, who rate 490 ?? u ?f ? f 

" Your Saiinguerra, your sole potentate of ^ste 

" That might have been, 'mongst Este's valvassors — 

" Ay, Azzo's — who, not privy to, abhors 

" Our step ; but we were zealous." Azzo then 

To do with ! Straight a meeting of old men : 

" Old Saiinguerra dead, his heir a boy, 

" What if we change our ruler and decoy 

" The Lombard Eagle of the azure sphere 2 

" With Italy to build in, fix him here, 

" Settle the city's troubles in a trice ? 500 

" For private wrong, let public good suffice ! " 

In fine, young Salinguerra's staunchest friends 

Talked of the townsmen making him amends, 

Gave him a goshawk, and affirmed there was 

Rare sport, one morning, over the green grass 

A mile or so. He sauntered through the plain, 

Was restless, fell to thinking, turned again 

In time for Azzo's entry with the bride ; 

Count Boniface rode smirking at their side ; 

" She brings him half Ferrara," whispers flew, 510 

486. Men's] our. 489. This Richard's father] no meaner 
spokesman. 490. Guelfs] wont to. 496-497] omitted. 505. 
green grass] morass. 

1 Ludovico S. Bonifacio died after Ponte Alto in 1212. See 
Vita Ricciardi Bonifacii, Muratori, Tome viii. After mentioning 
the death of Azzo, the father of Aldobrandinus, the chronicler 
adds : In the same year " Ludovicus S. Bonifacius moritur, vir 
per ea tempore virtute et potentia insignes." 

* In the 1st edition the lines 495-500 read — 

" The Lombard eagle of the azure sphere 
With Italy to build in, builds he here ? 
This deemed — the other owned upon advice — 
A third reflected on the matter twice — 
In fine. . . . 
The Eagle was the crest of the house of Este." 



200 S0RDELL0 

Book IV " And all Ancona ! If the stripling knew ! " 
Anon the stripling was in Sicily 1 
Where Heinrich ruled in right of Constance ; he 
Was gracious nor his guest incapable ; 
Each understood the other. So it fell, 
One Spring, when Azzo, thoroughly at ease, 
His Had near forgotten by what precise degrees 
marriage jj e cre pt a t first to such a downy seat, 
turn-to T fle Count trudged over in a special heat 
Mantua To bid him of God's love dislodge from each 520 

Of Salinguerra's palaces, — a breach 
Might yawn else, not so readily to shut, 
For who was just arrived at Mantua but 
The youngster, sword on thigh and tuft on chin, 
With tokens for Celano, Ecelin, 
Pistore, and the like 2 ! Next news, — no whit 
Do any of Ferrara's domes befit 
His wife of Heinrich's very blood : a band 
Of foreigners assemble, understand 
Garden-constructing, level and surround, 530 

Build up and bury in. A last news crowned 
The consternation : since his infant's birth, 
He only waits they end his wondrous girth 
Of trees that link San Pietro with Toma, 
To visit Mantua. 3 When the Podesta 
Ecelin, at Vicenza, called his friend 
Taurello thither, what could be their end 
But to restore the Ghibellins' late Head 

518. at first] by into. 535. Mantua] Us. When as its . . . 

1 After recording Este's marriage, Pigna says : Salinguerra, 
piqued by Este's attitude, went to Sicily to Ceesar in 1 198. " Salin- 
guerra vedutosi fatto pari a gli altri cittadini e nol potendo 
supportare : si transferi l'anno mille cento novantaotto in 
Sicilia a Cesare. A cui esposa il nuovo principio di grandezza 
che si era presentato a Principi di Este." 

2 The counts of Celano were nobles near Ferrara (see note on 
1. 637). Pistore was the Bishop of Vicenza, who was expelled 
with Taurello and Ecelin in 1194. Maurisio says he was found 
drowned in the castle moat at Scledus pierced with an arrow the 
day after the flight. 

3 This should be Ferrara, for the San Pietro palace was at 
Ferrara, and he has already come to Mantua (see 1. 523). The 
1st edition reading puts it right. For " Toma " see note on 
L 171, and Bk. v. 283. 



SORDELLO 



201 



The Kaiser helping ? He with most to dread 

From vengeance and reprisal, Azzo, there 

With Boniface beforehand, as aware 

Of plots in progress, gave alarm, expelled 

Both plotters * : but the Guelfs in triumph yelled 

Too hastily. The burning and the flight, 

And how Taurello, occupied that night 

With Ecelin, lost wife and son, I told : 

— Not how he bore the blow, retained his hold, 

Got friends safe through, left enemies the worst 

O' the fray, and hardly seemed to care at first : 

But afterward men heard not constantly 

Of Salinguerra's House so sure to be ! 

Though Azzo simply gained by the event 

A shifting of his plagues — the first, content 

To fall behind the second and estrange 

So far his nature, suffer such a change 

That in Romano sought he wife and child, 

And for Romano's sake seemed reconciled 

To losing individual life, which shrunk 

As the other prospered — mortised in his trunk ; 

Like a dwarf palm which wanton Arabs foil 

Of bearing its own proper wine and oil, 

By grafting into it the stranger-vine, 

Which sucks its heart out, sly and serpentine, 

Till forth one vine-palm feathers to the root, 

And red drops moisten the insipid fruit. 2 

553. The first] This one . . . 554. The second] the other. 
555. reads. " You will not say, his nature, but so change . . ." 
558. which shrunk] deep sunk. 559. As . . prospered] a very 
pollard. 

1 In the 1st edition the lines from 536 read — 

" Regaled him at Vicenza, Este, there 
With Boniface beforehand, each aware 
Of plots in progress, gave alarm, expelled 
A party which abetted hire, but yelled 
Too hastily." 

2 The simile is compressed in the first edition — 

" A very pollard . . . 
Which Arabs out of wantonness contrive 
Shall dwindle that the alien stock may thrive 
Till forth that vine-palm feathers to the root 
And red drops moisten them its arid fruit." 

" Mortised " used in the sense of " graft." Lit. to cut a hole to 

receive a tenon. See Bk. v. 225, note. 



Book IV 

540 The ex- 
pulsion 
from 
Vicenza 
and alli- 
ance with 
Romano 



550 



560 



202 S0RDELL0 

Book IV Once Adelaide set on, — the subtle mate 
Taurello Of the weak soldier, urged to emulate 

and Adel- The Church's valiant women deed for deed, 
31 And paragon her namesake, 1 win the meed 

O' the great Matilda, — soon they overbore 570 

The rest of Lombardy, — not as before 

By an instinctive truculence, but patched 

The Kaiser's strategy until it matched 

The Pontiff's, sought old ends by novel means. 

" Only, why is it Salinguerra screens 

" Himself behind Romano ? — him we bade 

" Enjoy our shine i' the front, not seek the shade ! " 

— Asked Heinrich, somewhat of the tardiest 

To comprehend. Nor Philip 2 acquiesced 

At once in the arrangement ; reasoned, plied 580 

His friend with offers of another bride, 

A statelier function — fruitlessly : 'twas plain 

Taurello through some weakness must remain 

Obscure. And Otho, free to judge of both 

— Ecelin the unready, harsh and loth, 

And this more plausible and facile wight 

With every point a-sparkle — chose the right, 

Admiring how his predecessors harped 

On the wrong man : " thus," quoth he, " wits are 

warped 
" By outsides ! " Carelessly, meanwhile, his life 590 
Suffered its many turns of peace and strife 
His ac- In many lands — you hardly could surprise 

complish- The man ; who shamed Sordello (recognize !) 
and in^ ^ n ^ s as mucn beside, that, unconcerned 
fluence What qualities were natural or earned, 
With no ideal of graces, as they came 
He took them, singularly well the same — 

567. Of the weak soldier] and wholly at his beck. 
575-57 8 reads — 

" Only Romano Salinguerra screens — 
Heinrich was somewhat," etc. 
590. meanwhil]e withal. 

1 Adelaide of Susa (see iii. 493), where she is said to have 
entrusted to Matilda her scheme for giving Piedmont to the 
Pope. 

2 The Emperor who disputed the Empire with Otho on the 
death of Heinrich. 



SORDELLO 203 

Speaking the Greek's own language, just because Book IV 

Your Greek eludes you, leave the least of flaws 

In contracts with him ; while, since Arab lore 600 

Holds the stars' secret — take one trouble more 

And master it ! 'Tis done, and now deter 

Who may the Tuscan, once Jove trined for her, 

From Friedrich's path ! — Friedrich, whose pilgrimage 

The same man puts aside, whom he'll engage 

To leave next year John Brienne in the lurch, 1 

Come to Bassano, see Saint Francis' church 

And judge of Guido the Bolognian's piece, 2 

Which, — lend Taurello credit, — rivals Greece — 

Angels, with aureoles like golden quoits 610 

Pitched home, applauding Ecelin's exploits. 

For elegance, he strung the angelot, 

Made rhymes thereto ; for prowess, clove he not 

Tiso, last siege, from crest to crupper 3 ? Why 

598. The Greek's own] a dozen languages . . . 600 reads : 
"In contracts, while through Arab lore, deter — who may," etc. 
601-2] omitted. 612. For elegance] In Painimrie. 

1 That is, Taurello's influence induced Frederick to drop the 
Crusade. See Bk. i. 1. 194. 

2 There is a most ancient tradition, says Verci, that Ecelin the 
Stammerer built the Church of S. Francis at Bassano as the result 
of a vow made to the Blessed Virgin during his return from the 
Holy Land when the ship was in danger of going down. The 
church was decorated with frescoes recording Ecelin's deeds in the 
Holy Land, and contained a magnificent painted tomb in the 
choir with a portrait of Ecelin kneeling before the Blessed Virgin. 
An inscription was appended which read : " Anno Domini 
mclxxvii., Guidus Bononiensis pingebat" (Verci, Vol. i. p. m). 
S. Francis' is still the parish church at Bassano. Built of red brick, 
it dates from 1 180 a.d. Nothing remains of any frescoes or tombs. 
As elsewhere in Lombardy, the public feeling against the Ecelini 
after 1260 probably caused the destruction of every sign of their 
hated domination. Bassano passed under the rule of Vicenza 
in 1261. 

3 Tisolino da Campo Sampiero (Tiso Sampier) was one of Azzo's 
dearest friends. In the first siege of Ferrara (not mentioned in 
the poem), when Salinguerra nearly trapped Azzo as he subse- 
quently trapped Count Richard, Tiso got separated in the retreat 
and was found killed. The story is in Rolandino, Bk ii. 2. 
He refused to surrender to the common soldiery, and as no 
one of noble blood could be found he was slain. Everyone 
regretted him. Salinguerra says Rolandino " tristatus lacryma- 
biliter et fecit eum honorabiUter sepeliri." Browning's account 
is imaginative. 



204 S0RDELL0 

Book IV Detail you thus a varied mastery 

But to show how Taurello, on the watch 
Contrast For men, to read their hearts and thereby catch 
in ch ?f- Their capabilities and purposes, 
SordeUo Displayed himself so far as displayed these : 

While our Sordello only cared to know 620 

About men as a means whereby he'd show 
Himself, and men had much or little worth 
According as they kept in or drew forth 
That self ; the other's choicest instruments 
Surmised him shallow. 1 

Meantime, malcontents 
Dropped off, town after town grew wiser. " How 
" Change the world's face ? " asked people ; " as 'tis 

now 
" It has been, will be ever : very fine 
" Subjecting things profane to things divine, 
His " In talk ! This contumacy will fatigue 630 

success « jjjg vigilance f E s t e and the League ! 

" The Ghibellins gain on us ! " — as it happed 
Old Azzo and old Boniface, entrapped 
By Ponte Alto, both in one month's space 
Slept at Verona 2 : either left a brace 
Of sons — but, three years after, either's pair 
Lost Guglielm and Aldobrand its heir 3 : 
Azzo remained and Richard — all the stay 
Of Este and Saint Boniface, at bay 

632. reads : " Observe ! accordingly, their basement sapped." 

1 While Sordello's object was self -display, Taurello showed 
as little of his own hand as possible — only what was necessary 
to see his opponent's cards. 

a Browning is not quite correct here. Azzo and Boniface 
died within eight days of each other, and within a month of their 
defeat by Ecelin at Ponte Alto in 1212 a.d., but not, as is sug- 
gested.'as the result of the battle. " Illis temporibus et diebus," 
says Maurisio, " naturali morte nota ultra mensem post haec 
(i.e. Ponte Alto) tarn Marchio quam Comes interiit, infra octo 
dies unus post alterum." 

3 Azzo of Este left Aldobrand and Azzo VII. The former, it 
was said, died of poison administered by the Conte di Celano, 
who had been bribed by the opposite faction (Giraldus, Comment, 
di Ferrarcfy. Richard left an elder son, the Richard of SordeUo, 
and Guglielm, a younger son. Browning is wrong in calling 
Guglielm the heir (Chron. Monach. Paduani, Liber i.). 



SORDELLO 205 

As 'twere. Then, either Ecelin grew old 640 Book IV 

Or his brain altered — not o'er the proper mould 

For new appliances — his old palm-stock 

Endured no influx of strange strengths. He'd rock 

As in a drunkenness, or chuckle low 

As proud of the completeness of his woe, 

Then weep real tears ; — now make some mad onslaught In Taur- 

On Este, heedless of the lesson taught eUo ' s ab " 

So painfully, — now cringe for peace, sue peace Romano 

At price of past gain, bar of fresh increase wanes 

To the fortunes of Romano. Up at last 650 

Rose Este, down Romano sank as fast. 

And men remarked these freaks of peace and war 

Happened while Salinguerra was afar : 

Whence every friend besought him, all in vain, 

To use his old adherent's wits again. 

Not he ! — " who had advisers in his sons, 

" Could plot himself, nor needed any one's 

" Advice." 'Twas Adelaide's remaining staunch 

Prevented his destruction root and branch 

Forthwith ; but when she died, doom fell, for gay 660 

He made alliances, gave lands away 

To whom it pleased accept them, and withdrew 

For ever from the world. Taurello, who 

Was summoned to the convent, then refused 

A word at the wicket, patience thus abused, 

Promptly threw off alike his imbecile 

Ally's yoke, and his own frank, foolish smile. 

Soon a few movements of the happier sort 

Changed matters, put himself in men's report His re- 

As heretofore ; he had to fight, beside, 670 turn 

And that became him ever. So, in pride changed 

And flushing of this kind of second youth, matters 

He dealt a good-will blow. 1 Este in truth 

648-50 — " Now cringe, sue peace, but peace. 

At price of all advantage : therefore cease. 
The fortunes of Romano." 

652. these freaks] this sort . . . 653. Happened] commenced. 
660. but when she died] Goito green above her, gay. 

665-8. A word] " however patient, thus abused. 
At Este's mercy through his imbecile 
Ally, was fain dismiss the foolish smile." 

1 That is, the capture of Count Richard. 



206 SORDELLO 

Book IV Lay prone — and men remembered, somewhat late, 
A laughing old outrageous stifled hate 
He bore to Este — how it would outbreak 
At times spite of disguise, like an earthquake 
In sunny weather — as that noted day 
When with his hundred friends he tried to slay 
Azzo before the Kaiser's face : and how, 68c 

On Azzo's calm refusal to allow 
A liegeman's challenge, straight he too was calmed x ; 
As if his hate could bear to lie embalmed, 
Bricked up, the moody Pharaoh, and survive 
All intermediate crumblings, to arrive 
At earth's catastrophe — 'twas Este's crash 
Not Azzo's he demanded, 3 so, no rash 
Procedure ! Este's true antagonist 
Rose out of Ecelin : all voices whist, 
All eyes were sharpened, wits predicted. He 690 

'Twas, leaned in the embrasure absently, 
Amused with his own efforts, now, to trace 
With his steel-sheathed forefinger Friedrich's face 
I' the dust : but as the trees waved sere, his smile 
Deepened, and words expressed its thoughts erewhile. 
He re- " Ay, fairly housed at last, my old compeer ? 

calls the " That we should stick together, all the year 
expulsion « ]■ kept vicenza » !— How old Boniface, 
" Old Azzo caught us in its market-place, 

679. he tried to] he offered. 685. to arrive] be alive. 690. All 
eyes] Each glance. 691. absently] presently. 698. Vicenza] 
Verona. 

1 This scene, which is recorded by Maurisio, and quoted by 
Sismondi, Verci, and others, took place before Otho the Emperor. 
Salinguerra accused Azzo of treachery, which Azzo denied. 
Salinguerra's challenge to battle he haughtily refused, saying 
that " plures habebat fideles et nobiliores ipso Salinguerra, qui 
pro ipso pugnaret cum eodem, si vellet pugnare." Matters went 
so far that the German nobles drew their swords and interposed 
between them. 

2 His hatred was against the whole house, not merely against 
the individual. 

3 Both the 1st edition and that of 1863 read " Verona." 
Vicenza is, however, obviously meant, as it refers to the expul- 
sion of 1 194. In the Piazza dei Signori at Vicenza are two old 
columns, to which Browning probably refers. If so, he is 
historically incorrect, as they date from the period of the Venetian 
domination, that is, from 1404. 



SORDELLO 207 

" He by that pillar, I at this, — caught each 700 Book IV 

" In mid swing, more than fury of his speech, 

" Egging the rabble on to disavow 

" Allegiance to their Marquis — Bacchus, how 

" They boasted ! Ecelin must turn their drudge, 

" Nor, if released, will Salinguerra grudge 

" Paying arrears of tribute due long since — 

" Bacchus ! My man could promise then, nor wince : 

" The bones-and-muscles ! Sound of wind and limb, 

" Spoke he the set excuse I framed for him : 

" And now he sits me, slavering and mute, 710 

" Intent on chafing each starved purple foot 

" Benumbed past aching with the altar slab : 

" Will no vein throb there when some monk shall blab 

" Spitefully to the circle of bald scalps, 

" ' Friedrich's affirmed to be our side the Alps ' 

" Eh, brother Lactance, brother Anaclet ? 

" Sworn to abjure the world, its fume and fret, 

" God's own now ? Drop the dormitory bar, 

" Enfold the scanty grey serge scapular 

" Twice o'er the cowl to muffle memories out ? 720 

" So ! But the midnight whisper turns a shout, 

" Eyes wink, mouths open, pulses circulate 

" In the stone walls : the past, the world you hate 

" Is with you, ambush, open field — or see The cowl 

" The surging flame — we fire Vicenza — glee ! makes 

" FoUow, let Pilio and Bernardo chafe ! °° t n * he 

" Bring up the Mantuans — through San Biagio 1 — safe ! 

" Ah, the mad people waken ? Ah, they writhe 

" And reach us ? If they block the gate ? No tithe 

" Can pass — keep back, you Bassanese ! The edge, 730 

" Use the edge— shear, thrust, hew, melt down the 

wedge, 
" Let out the black of those black upturned eyes ! 
" Hell — are they sprinkling fire too ? The blood fries 
" And hisses on your brass gloves as they tear 

704. They boasted] They caught us. 717. its fume and] and 
the world's . . . 

1 The old Church of S. Biagio (now a school) still stands close 
to the Porta di Pusterla. The Ecelini palace was close by where 
now is the Church of S. Corona, built as a thankoflering for the 
extinction of the family in 1260 a.d 



208 SORDELLO 

Book IV " Those upturned faces choking with despair.. 

" Brave ! Slidder through the reeking gate x ! ' How 

now ? 
" ' You six had charge of her ? ' And then the vow 2 
" L Comes, and the foam spirits, hair's plucked, till one 

shriek 
" (I hear it) and you fling — you cannot speak — 
" Your gold-flowered basnet to a man who haled 740 
" The Adelaide he dared scarce view unveiled 
" This morn, naked across the fire : how crown 
" The archer that exhausted lays you down 
" Your infant, smiling at the flame, and dies 3 ? 
" While one, while mine . . . 

" Bacchus ! I think there lies 
" More than one corpse there " (and he paced the room) 
" — Another cinder somewhere 4 : 'twas my doom 
" Beside, my doom ! If Adelaide is dead, 
" I live the same, this Azzo lives instead 

749. I live the same] I am the same. 

1 The historical facts of this expulsion from Vicenza were as 
follows : — The city was divided into two factions, the Maltraversi, 
under the leadership of Count Uguccione,tand the Vivaresi, under 
that of Ecelin. In June 1194 they fell out over the election of 
a Podesta, and compromised by leaving the choice in the hands 
of two electors, one nominated by each party. The Vivaresi 
chose one Sulimano, while the Maltraversi nominated Pilio da 
Celsano. Pilio, without consulting his colleague, intrigued with 
Giacomo de' Bernardi, a Bolognese, agreeing to have him elected 
Podesta on the condition of throwing all his weight against the 
Ecelin party. This was carried through, and Giacomo de' Bernardi, 
being elected, gave judgment against Ecelin and banished him. 
Ecelin in revenge took up arms, but the Podesta and the Maltra- 
versi proved too strong and he was expelled. With him also 
went the Bishop Pistore. In the conflict half the city was 
burnt. Verci, Vol. ii. p. in. 

8 The vow now fulfilled by his retirement to Oliero : to give 
" his life to God, his gettings to the Church," because his wife was 
saved. 

3 This was Elcorte, whose child, according to Browning, Sordello 
was, reputed to be brought up by Adelaide in gratitude for 
the father's sacrifice. See Introd., end of § 11. 

4 Taurello recalls his own loss, how he was shown the charred 
remains said to be those of Retrude, and how even at the time 
he failed to find any evidence of his child. It is like Browning 
to suggest thus in a line a hint of doubt as to the truth of the 
story lying ready to germinate in Taurello's mind, 



SORDELLO 209 

" Of that to me, and we pull, any how 750 Book IV 

" Este, into a heap : the matter's now 

" At the true juncture slipping us so oft. 

" Ay, Heinrich died and Otho, please you, doffed 

" His crown at such a juncture ! Still, if holds 

" Our Friedrich's purpose, if this chain enfolds 

" The neck of 1 . . . who but this same Ecelin Shall he 

" That must recoil when the best days begin ! accept 

" Recoil ? that's nought ; if the recoiler leaves ^ ? 

" His name for me to fight with, no one grieves : 

" But he must interfere, forsooth, unlock 760 

" His cloister to become my stumbling-block 

" Just as of old ! Ay, ay, there 'tis again — 

" The land's inevitable Head — explain 

" The reverences that subject us ! Count 

" These Ecelins now ! Not to say as fount, 

" Originating power of thought, — from twelve 

" That drop i' the trenches they joined hands to 

delve, 
" Six shall surpass him, but . . . why men must twine 
" Somehow with something ! Ecelin's a fine 
" Clear name ! 'Twere simpler, doubtless, twine with What's 

me 770 in a 

" At once : our cloistered friend's capacity name ■ 

" Was of a sort ! I had to share myself 
" In fifty portions, like an o'ertasked elf 
" That's forced illume in fifty points the vast 
" Rare vapour he's environed by. At last 
" My strengths, though sorely frittered, e'en converge 
" And crown . . . no, Bacchus, they have yet to urge 
" The man be crowned ! 

" That aloe, an he durst, 
" Would climb ! Just such a bloated sprawler first 
" I noted in Messina's castle-court 780 

" The day I came, when Heinrich asked in sport 
" If I would pledge my faith to win him back 
" His right in Lombardy : ' for, once bid pack 
" ' Marauders,' he continued, ' in my stead 

754. Still if] Let but . . . 

1 Taurello would fill m his own name, but dare not. He shrinks 
as ever from the responsibility, though ready to fight his best 
beneath the faintest shadow of a name. 



210 S0RDELL0 

Book IV " ' You rule, Taurello ! ' and upon this head 
" Laid the silk glove of Constance — I see her 
" Too, mantled head to foot in miniver, 
" Retrude following ! 

" I am absolved 
" From further toil : the empery devolved 
" On me, 'twas Tito's word : I have to lay 790 

" For once my plan, pursue my plan my way, 
" Prompt nobody, and render an account 
" Taurello to Taurello ! Nay, I mount 

What a " To Friedrich : he conceives the post I kept, 

future « — Who did true service, able or inept, 
ancePoi " Wh°' s worthy guerdon, Ecelin or I 

the post " Me guerdoned, counsel follows : would he vie 
offers ! " With the Pope really ? Azzo, Boniface 

" Compose a right-arm Hohenstauffen's race 
" Must break ere govern Lombardy. I point 800 

" How easy 'twere to twist, once out of joint, 
" The socket from the bone : my Azzo's stare 
" Meanwhile ! for I, this idle strap to wear, 
" Shall — fret myself abundantly, what end 
" To serve ? There's left me twenty years to spend 
Is it " — How better than my old way ? Had I one 

worth it " Who laboured to o'erthrow my work — a son 

aThrir 11 ? " Hatchin g with Azzo superb treachery, 

" To root my pines up and then poison me, 

" Suppose — 'twere worth while frustrate that ! Beside 

" Another life's ordained me : the world's tide 811 

" Rolls, and what hope of parting from the press 

" Of waves, a single wave through weariness 

" Gently lifted aside, laid upon shore ? 

" My life must be lived out in foam and roar, 

" No question. Fifty years the province held 

" Taurello ; troubles "raised, and troubles quelled, 

" He in the midst — who leaves this quaint stone place, 

" These trees a year or two, then not a trace 

" Of him ! How obtain hold, fetter men's tongues 820 

" Like this poor minstrel with the foolish songs — 

" To which, despite our bustle, he is linked ? 

" — Flowers one may teaze, that never grow extinct. 

807. to] omitted. 814. Gently lifted] That's gently led . . 
821. poor minstrel] Sordello. 823. grow] seem. 



SORDELLO 211 

Ay, that patch, surely, green as ever, where Book IV 

I set Her Moorish lentisk, by the stair, Fate 

To overawe the aloes ; and we trod fate,' 

Those flowers, how call you such ? — into the sod ; fate ' 

A stately foreigner — a world of pain 

To make it thrive, arrest rough winds — all vain ! 

It would decline ; these would not be destroyed : 830 

And now, where is it ? where can you avoid 

The flowers ? I frighten children twenty years 

Longer ! — which way, too, Ecelin appears 

To thwart me, for his son's besotted youth 

Gives promise of the proper tiger-tooth : 

They feel it at Vicenza ! Fate, fate, fate, 

My fine Taurello ! Go you, promulgate 

Friedrich's decree, and here's shall aggrandize 

Young Ecelin — your Prefect's badge ! a prize 

Too precious, certainly. 

" How now ? Compete 840 
With my old comrade ? shuffle from their seat 
His children ? Paltry dealing ! Don't I know 
Ecelin ? now, I think, and years ago ! The 

What's changed — the weakness ? did not I compound claim of 
For that, and undertake to keep him sound *°yalty to 

Despite it ? Here's Taurello hankering c 

After a boy's preferment — this plaything 
To carry, Bacchus ! " And he laughed. 

Remark 
Why schemes wherein cold-blooded men embark 
Prosper, when your enthusiastic sort 850 

Fail : while these last are ever stopping short — 
(So much they should — so little they can do !) 
The careless tribe see nothing to pursue 
If they desist ; meantime their scheme succeeds. 
Thoughts were caprices in the course of deeds 
Methodic with Taurello ; so, he turned, — 

Enough amused by fancies fairly earned He comes 

Of Este's horror-struck submitted neck, ^ ack f to 

And Richard, the cowed braggart, at his beck, — fancy° m 

To his own petty but immediate doubt 860 

836. They feel it] They prattle . . . 845. keep him] pre- 
serve him. 846. Here's ... a boy] say . . . the boy. 
852. So much they should] Much to be done. 859. Richard, 
the cowed braggart] Boniface completely. 



212 SORDELLO 

Book IV If he could pacify the League without 

Conceding Richard ; just to this was brought 
That interval of vain discursive thought ! 
As, shall I saj', some Ethiop, past pursuit 
Of all enslavers, dips a shackled foot 
Burnt to the blood, into the drowsy black 
Enormous watercourse which guides him back 

The Ethi- To his own tribe again, where he is king ; 
opian And laughs because he guesses, numbering 
kin S The yellower poison-wattles on the pouch 870 

Of the first lizard wrested from its couch 
Under the slime (whose skin, the while, he strips 
To cure his nostril with, and festered lips, 
And eyeballs bloodshot through the desert-blast) 
That he has reached its boundary, at last 
May breathe ; — thinks o'er enchantments of the South 
Sovereign to plague his enemies, their mouth, 
Eyes, nails, and hair ; but, these enchantments tried 
In fancy, puts them soberly aside 
For truth, projects a cool return with friends, 880 

The likelihood of winning mere amends 
Ere long ; thinks that, takes comfort silently, 
Then, from the river's brink, his wrongs and he, 
Hugging revenge close to their hearts, are soon 
Off-striding for the Mountains of the Moon. 1 

Midnight : the watcher nodded on his spear, 
Since clouds dispersing left a passage clear 
For any meagre and discoloured moon 
To venture forth ; and such was peering soon 
Above the harassed city — her close lanes 890 

Closer, not half so tapering her fanes, 
As though she shrunk into herself to keep 
What little life was saved, more safely. Heap 
By heap the watch-fires mouldered, and beside 
The blackest spoke Sordello and replied 
Palma with none to listen. " 'Tis your cause : 

867. watercourse, etc.] water current, his sole track. 880. 
projects a cool return] cool projects, a return. 881. mere] 
wild. 

1 The point of the simile is that the Ethiopian king, like 
Salinguerra, after planning wild and impractical schemes, comes 
back to deal sensibly with the hard facts of the immediate future. 



SORDELLO 213 

" What makes a Ghibellin ? There should be laws ] — Book IV 

" (Remember how my youth escaped ! I trust Palma 

" To you for manhood, Palma ! tell me just and 

" As any child) — there must be laws at work 900 ? ot ?jf Uo 

" Explaining this. Assure me, good may lurk watch- 

" Under the bad, — my multitude has part fire 

" In your designs, their welfare is at heart 

" With Salinguerra, to their interest 

" Refer the deeds he dwelt on, — so divest 

" Our conference of much that scared me. Why 

" Affect that heartless tone to Tito ? I 

" Esteemed myself, yes, in my inmost mind 

" This morn, a recreant to my race — mankind 

" O'erlooked till now : why boast my spirit's force, 910 

" — Such force denied its object ? why divorce 

" These, then admire my spirit's flight the same 

" As though it bore up, helped some half -orbed flame 

" Else quenched in the dead void, to living space 2 ? 

" That orb cast off to chaos and disgrace, 

" Why vaunt so much my unencumbered dance, 

" Making a feat's facilities enhance 

" Its marvel ? But I front Taurello, one 

" Of happier fate, and all I should have done, 

900. there must be laws] laws secretly at work. 909. my 
race] that wide. 
913-14 reads — 

" As though it bore a burden, which could tame 
No pinion, from dead void to living space." 

915. Cast off] consigned. 916. So — dance] complacently my 
frantic dance. 

1 Sordello, whose eyes have been rudely opened to the real 
motives of selfish men, still would cling to his ideal and seek to 
find beneath these " strange ways of serving men " a substratum 
of good purpose for mankind. 

8 The passage 901-91 8 may be paraphrased thus: — Assure me, 
he says to Palma, that good may lurk beneath the bad — that 
my multitude has a part in these Ghibelline schemes of yours — 
that Salinguerra has their interest at heart despite appearances to 
the contrary. Yet, if such were the case, why assume that heartless 
tone to Tito ? This morning I held myself a very recreant to 
my race, for I saw clearly how when I should have been straining 
every nerve to raise upwards towards the light these poor creatures 
in their world of darkness, I was actually priding myself on 
doing nothing and thinking I was all the greater for my superi- 
ority and splendid isolation. 



214 SORDELLO 

Book IV " He does ; the people's good being paramount 920 
" With him, their progress may perhaps account 
" For his abiding still 1 ; whereas you heard 
" The talk with Tito — the excuse preferred 
" For burning those five hostages, — and broached 
" By way of blind, as you and I approached, 
" I do believe." 

The sel- She spoke : then he, " My thought 

^G^lf " Plai 11 ^ 61 " expressed ! All to your profit — nought 
and " Meantime of these, of conquests to achieve 

Ghibellin " For them, of wretchedness he might relieve 

alike re- " While profiting your party. Azzo, too, 930 

vealed « Supports a cause : what cause ? Do Guelfs pursue 
" Their ends by means like yours, or better ? " 

When 
The Guelfs were proved alike, men weighed with men, 
And deed with deed, blaze, blood, with blood and blaze. 
Morn borke : " Once more, Sordello, meet its gaze 
" Proudly — the people's charge against thee fails 
" In every point, while either party quails ! 
" These are the busy ones : be silent thou ! 
" Two parties take the world up, and allow 
" No third, yet have one principle, subsist 940 

" By the same injustice ; whoso shall enlist 
" With either, ranks with man's inveterate foes. 
" So there is one less quarrel to compose : 
" The Guelf, the Ghibellin may be to curse — 
" I have done nothing, but both sides do worse 
" Than nothing. 2 Nay, to me, forgotten, reft 

920. the people's good] the multitude aye . . . 927. to your] 
Friedrich's. 920. your party] that Friedrich. 933. weighed] 
ranged. 941. injustice] method. 

1 Sordello is hoping against hope and defending Taurello 
against his own convictions as to his motives : perhaps, he says, 
he has sacrificed his prospects to his principles, and that is why 
he still remains in a subordinate position ; and yet he burns five 
hostages and then puts forward a trumpery excuse because we 
came in. Can one possibly believe that such a man cares one 
iota for the people ? 

8 Browning, in later years at any rate, was no admirer of the 
negative goodness which Sordello here claims as a virtue. Cf. 
The Statue and the Bust — 

" Let a man contend to the uttermost 
For his life's set prize be it what it will ! 
The counter our lovers staked was lost 



SORDELLO 215 

" Of insight, lapped by trees and flowers, was left Book IV 

" The notion of a service — ha ? What lured 

" Me here, what mighty aim was I assured 

" Must move Taurello ? What if there remained 950 

" A cause, intact, distinct from these, ordained 

" For me, its true discoverer ? " 

Some one pressed 
Before them here, a watcher, to suggest 

The subject for a ballad : " They must know Archer's 

" The tale of the dead worthy, long ago tale 

" Consul of Rome — that's long ago for us, 
" Minstrels and bowmen, idly squabbling thus 
" In the world's corner — but too late no doubt, 
" For the brave time he sought to bring about. 
" — Not know Crescentius Nomentanus x ? " Then 960 
He cast about for terms to tell him, when 
Sordello disavowed it, how they used 
Whenever their Superior introduced 
A novice to the Brotherhood — (" for I 
" Was just a brown-sleeve brother, merrily 
" Appointed too," quotb he, " till Innocent 
" Bade me relinquish, to my small content, 
" My wife or my brown sleeves ") — some brother spoke 
Ere nocturns of Crescentius, to revoke 
The edict issued, after his demise, 970 

Which blotted fame alike and effigies, 
All out except a floating power, a name 

950-52 reads — 

" Moved Salinguerra ? If a cause remained 
Intact, distinct from these, and fate ordained 
For all the past, that cause for me ? One," etc. 

971. fame alike] memories. 

As surely as if it were lawful coin : 

And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost 

Is — the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin 

Though the end in sight was a vice, I say." 
1 Crescentius, having persuaded the Roman people to restore 
the ancient idea of a republic, ruled as Consul in Rome from 
980-998. On the death of the reigning Pope he nominated his 
own candidate in opposition to that of the Emperor. Otho III. 
descended on Rome with an army and put both Crescentius 
and his Papal nominee to death. Browning gleaned this incident 
from. Sismondi probably (see Hist, des Rep. Ital., c. Hi.). 



216 SORDELLO 

Book IV Including, tending to produce the same 

Cres- Great act. Rome, dead, forgotten, lived at least 

centius Within that brain, though to a vulgar priest 

Nomen- ^ n ^ a v jj e stranger, — two not worth a slave 

Of Rome's, Pope John, King Otho,— fortune gave 

The rule there : so, Crescentius, haply dressed 

In white, called Roman Consul for a jest, 

Taking the people at their word, forth stepped 980 

Ai upon Brutus' heel, nor ever kept 

Rome waiting, — stood erect, and from his brain 

Gave Rome out on its ancient place again, 

Ay, bade proceed with Brutus' Rome/Kings styled 

Themselves mere citizens of, and, beguiled 

Into great thoughts thereby, would choose the gem 

Out of a lapfull, spoil their diadem 

— The Senate's cypher was so hard to scratch 1 ! 

He flashes like a phanal, all men catch 

The flame, Rome's just accomplished ! when returned 990 

Otho, with John, the Consul's step had spurned, 

And Hugo Lord of Este, to redress 

The wrongs of each. Crescentius in the stress 

His fate Qf adverse fortune bent. " They crucified 
" Their Consul in the Forum ; and abide 
" E'er since such slaves at Rome, that I — (for I 
" Was once a brown-sleeve brother, merrily 
" Appointed) — I had option to keep wife 
" Or keep brown sleeves, and managed in the strife 
" Lose both. A song of Rome ! " 

And Rome, indeed, 1000 
Robed at Goito in fantastic weed, 
The Mother-City of his Mantuan days, 
Looked an established point of light whence rays 

Rome's Traversed the world ; for, all the clustered homes 
the Beside of men, seemed bent on being Romes 

Sordello ^ n their degree ; the question was, how each 

Should most resemble Rome, clean out of reach. 

982. Rome] us. 990. just] omitted. 

1 This must mean that Crescentius found it easier to found a 
tyranny under the name of a republic than to revive the full 
republican regime; so he chose the gem out of it — the con- 
sulate — for himself, but deemed it advisable not to replace the 
senate — the peculiar power of the senate being so difficult to 
revive, or, in his phrase, their signature so hard to copy. 



SORDELLO 217 

Nor, of the Two, did either principle Book IV 

Struggle to change, but to possess Rome, — still 
Guelf Rome or Ghibellin Rome. 

Let Rome advance ! 1010 
Rome, as she struck Sordello's ignorance — 
How could he doubt one moment ? Rome's the Cause ! 
Rome of the Pandects, 1 all the world's new laws — 
Of the Capitol, of Castle Angelo 2 ; 
New structures, that inordinately glow, 
Subdued, brought back to harmony, made ripe 
By many a relic of the archetype 
Extant for wonder ; every upstart church 
That hoped to leave old temples in the lurch, 
Corrected by the Theatre forlorn 1020 

That, — as a mundane shell, its world late born, — 
Lay and o'ershadowed it. 3 These hints combined, 

1007. Nor of the two did] Herself nor struggled . . . 
1008-9 reads — 

" To change what is aspired possess — Rome still 
For Frederick or Honorius. Rome's the Cause ! " 

1011-12] omitted. 1014. The Capitol turned Castle Angelo. 
1016-19] omitted. 1022. Lay and o'ershadowed it] Verona that's 
beside it. 

1 A collection of Laws systematically arranged from the works 
of Roman writers on jurisprudence published by the Emperor 
Justinian in 533 a.d. The revival of the study of Roman Law 
was one of the great features of the Renascence. Hallam says : 
"The revival of the study of jurisprudence as derived from the 
laws of Justinian has generally been ascribed to a discovery 
made of a copy of the Pandects at Amalfi in 1135 a.d., when that 
city was taken by the Pisans. . . . The study of law having thus 
revived, made a surprising progress : within fifty years Lombardy 
was full of lawyers, on whom Frederic Barbarossa and Alexander 
III. conspired to shower privileges and honours. The schools 
of Bologna were prominent throughout this century for legal 
learning." 

2 The Capitol represented the secular, Castle Angelo the 
religious, aspect of Roman government. The two are to con- 
verge in Sordello's Rome. Note the reading of the 1st edition. 

3 Sordello's conception of his new Rome was to be a city in 
which the glories of the new thought and learning were to be 
tempered and subdued by the lessons of the past, in which 
was to be combined all the best Jf catures alike of past and present. 
The Roman Coliseum suggests an analogy, which at this time 
had many churches built within its walls. " The Coliseum was 
bristling with churches. There were four dedicated to the 
Saviour, a fifth to S. James, a sixth to S. Agatha, besides other 



218 SORDELLO 

Book IV Rome typifies the scheme to put mankind 
Once more in fall possession of their rights. 
" Let us have Rome again ! On me it lights 
" To build up Rome — on me, the first and last : 
" For such a future was endured the past ! " 
And thus, in the grey twilight, forth he sprung 
To give his thought consistency among 
The very People — let their facts avail 1030 

Finish the dream grown from the archer's tale. 

chapels and oratories within the amphitheatre itself (Duff, 
Expos, of Sordello, quoted from Lanciani) . That " The Theatre " 
refers to the Coliseum is seen by the reading of the 1st edition — . 
the Veronese amphitheatre being, next to the Coliseum, the most 
famous in Italy. 



BOOK V 



INTRODUCTION 

The narrative in the fifth book is very brief. Sordello, 
whose last and loveliest dream lies shattered at the first 
touch of reality, yet still clinging amid the ruin of his 
hopes to his ideal of a Rome " indebted to no Palatine," 
makes a last effort to draw Salinguerra to his side. He 
seeks the presence-chamber and once more pleads the 
people's cause. At first ruined through his self-con- 
sciousness, the speech gradually grows in power as he 
loses himself in his subject. As he draws to a close, 
Taurello, with a sudden mad impulse, throws the badge 
across Sordello's neck, making him thereby Romano's 
chief. Then, to their mutual amazement, the true 
relationship between Salinguerra and Sordello as father 
and son dawns simultaneously upon them both. The 
truth once known, Palma teUs the story of Sordello's 
birth and concealment in the flight from Vicenza related 
to her by Adelaide as she lay upon ber deathbed. The 
story over, Sordello signs to them to leave him alone, 
and Palma takes Taurello to the gallery below, where in 
a whirlwind of excitement he plans and plots for the 
imaginary kingdom which he is to form for his new- 
discovered son. In the midst of his wild, almost inco- 
herent, discourse a sound is heard in the chamber above. 
Dashing up, they rush into the presence-chamber, to find 
Sordello with the badge beneath his foot — dead. 

The main portion of the book, however, is occupied 
with Sordello's speech before Salinguerra, and the train 
of thought which in the end led up to this great final 
effort. The keynote is " the dream grown from the 
archer's tale " — that is, the story of Crescentius as told 
at the close of Book iv. 

Related, as it was, in the early hours of the morning, it 
formed the text of Sordello's meditations throughout the 
day. As he wandered through Ferrara he explored the 
possibilities which the notion of a consul sitting as- 

221 



222 SORDELLO 

acknowledged arbiter between Guelf and Ghibelline 
presented to his mind. 

But Sordello is no longer quite the dreamer he was of 
oldj His eyes have been opened. He has learnt that 
fancy cannot be materialized without taking into account 
real men and women. Facts may be ugly, but they must 
be faced. It is upon this rock of reality that his argosy 
is wrecked. As he looks round upon the people the 
query is inevitably borne in upon his mind — 

"Art possessed 
of thy wish now, rewarded for thy quest 
To-day among Ferrara's squalid sons ? 
Are this and this the shining ones 
meet for the shining city ? " 

As evening draws on he finds himself once more upon 
the terrace of the San Pietro palace, summing up amid 
the lengthening shadows the evidence of his day's 
experience as opposed to the possibility of spiritualized 
Rome. 

Firm to his resolution to " let the facts avail " to try 
his dream city by the test of reason, he gives full weight 
to the practical difficulties which present themselves, 
with the inevitable result that the whole conception dies 
still-born. But before he acknowledges the failure of 
his last and loveliest dream he glances back across the 
past and learns therefrom a lesson, that " collective man 
outstrips the individual." Each age, he perceives, pro- 
duces men whose ideas are in advance of their time — 
men who fail, yet in whose very failure lies the germ of 
success for others; men who have undaunted sought 
" the high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too 
hard." These, even as Sordello himself, have grasped 
" time's completed plan," but have failed by seeking to 
force upon the world that for which the raw material 
(human nature) was not yet ready. He learns too 
another aspect of the same truth, that no one, however 
great, can be absolutely perfect or original. Every 
artist or craftsman is linked both to the past and to the 
future. He is the product of what is gone before and 
the forerunner of what is to come. Our nature and our 
art teems with those " fallings from us, vanishings," 
which bespeak our debt to " worlds not realized!"" 



SORDELLO 223 

Sordello is not the first nor will he be the last to bring a 
message to the world, but so far he has lacked the one 
effective quality which alone produces results — namely, 
the power to seize the present and to press it into the 
service of the future — 

" God has conceded two sights to man — 
one, of man's whole work, time's completed plan 
the other, of the minute's work, man's first 
step to the plan's completeness." 

This union of the dreamer and the worker is to be 
found in every man who has left his mark in the world. 
Turning to history, Browning emphasizes three stages — 
the age of material force typified by Charlemagne when 
strength by stress of strength is the keynote — " unfeeling 
thence strong therefore " ; then the stage where the 
spiritual ideal is grafted on to the material " strength 
by stress of knowledge " of which Hildebrand is the 
supreme example, " whence feeling, therefore stronger " ; 
and finally the third stage, not yet reached, when know- 
ledge by stress of knowledge, " unfeeling and yet feeling, 
strongest thence," shall be the keynote. This last stage, 
of which Sordello 's idealism is the type, foreshadowing a 
time when the power that will enforce goodness will be 
the mere perception that the end is right. The know- 
ledge that a thing is right will be sufficient to ensure its 
performance, no machinery will then be needed to en- 
force upon society a code of law beyond the dictates 
of its own consciousness. 

Amid the welter of the political world steps towards 
this reign of peace may be traced. The crusades, ridding 
Europe of much of its most difficult and turbulent 
element, have cleared the ground for the reception of 
new forces. The League or union of the many weak 
against the few strong has put a new weapon in the 
hands of the people and shifted the balance of power ; 
the Truce of God has proclaimed the dawn of peace. 
What is the next step and who is the man to take it ? 
Is this the hour, and is Sordello the man ? Once more 
and for the last time the dreamer and the political man 
of action within Sordello struggle for the mastery. 
That he is neither a Charlemagne nor a Hildebrand he 
is aware ; neither the physical nor the mental strength is 



224 SORDELLO 

his to lift the load that " Paul had moaned and Moses 
dropped beneath " — yet one true blow he will yet 
strike for the people with whom he is now identified. 
Their champion shall not fail them though he be defeated 
and the battle lost. There is yet a chance if Salinguerra 
can be won, and to Salinguerra he goes forthwith. At 
the start the speech which follows strikes the wrong 
note. The fatal vanity and self-consciousness which has 
already spoilt so much of Sordello's success mars this 
effort also. In the first place, it is utterly unconvincing. 
Sordello is not thinking of the people, but of himself. 
Instead of pleading the cause with which he has now so 
utterly identified himself, he contents himself with the 
enunciation of trite platitudes about the Papal Supremacy 
and the need of purging Lombardy of her barons. To 
think of convincing Taurello with political claptrap of 
this kind is ridiculous, especially when we remember 
that Sordello is not even in earnest, but is busy all the 
time wondering what they think of him. Taurello, 
whose consummate tact never fails him, takes his 
youthful catechist with all seriousness, until, his patience 
exhausted, he interrupts and in a few sarcastic phrases 
exposes the futility of Sordello's arguments by pointing 
out the effect such action would have upon Palma's 
plans, closing with a few words of caustic irony as to the 
value of minstrels as statesmen. 

Taurello's obvious contempt at last arouses Sordello. 
In a flash he sees the truth. He drops the ill-fitting 
garments of the political philosopher and stands forth 
as the poet. 

" Scorn the poet ? They, for once, 
Asking ' what was,' obtained a full response." 

In the portion of the speech that follows we have 
Sordello at last at his best. He is on familiar ground. 
He is worthy of his theme and his theme of him. 
Taurello has at last touched the hidden spring, and the 
oracle speaks. His subject is twofold : first comes the 
claim that the poet must be earth's essential king, and 
then comes the second subject, consequent upon the 
truth of the first, that the Work of the peot has been 
and indeed must be solely for the people's good. That 



SORDELLO 225 

selfishness cannot exist in the true poet, who, come life, 
come death, must serve the cause of others. 

The line Sordello takes is based upon the truth that 
" thought is the soul of act," that the thinker must 
precede the man of action. Going back to the very 
dawn of history he claims for the thinker the first 
protest against chaos, attributes to him the elements of 
order, gradually increasing until with the first dawn of 
song civilization had its birth. The modern jargon about 
" men of action, " the " great men " in the people's 
dialect, is an inversion of the truth. What is Salinguerra 
with all his skill of hand and brain, his political insight 
and genius for war, compared to Sordello the poet ? 
Can he for a moment mistake his true relations or fail 
to realize who is lord, who liegeman ? Sordello, though 
he has failed to help the world, though he has wasted 
alike powers and opportunities, is still a poet 

" ordained its champion from eternity." 

Nothing can take his royalty from him, though he 
yet may never use it for the purpose for which it was 
ordained. What, then, is the poet's function ? He is, as 
it were, a human microcosm, for in him is reflected the 
joys and sorrows of mankind; he has but to share out 
the riches of his soul, to use his endowments, to benefit 
mankind. This is where Sordello has failed: he has 
never learnt that priceless truth, that to save his soul 
he must lose it. Now, when it is too late, he knows his 
error. Yet even so, for all his failure everything is not 
lost. Thought is indestructible, and the poet's life is 
not terminated by death. Though he die, his thought 
passes on, " producing deeds, but not by deeds," swaying 
the world and moulding mankind, weaving the garment 
of God's Will. Then, passing on to the poet as teacher, 
he shows how it is the bard who is both judge and 
teacher — his verdict . on mankind is final (quoting 

Dante) — 

" I en womb 
Some wretched Frederick with his redhot tomb ; 
Some dubious spirit, Lombard Agilulph 
With the black chastening river I engulf." 

So, too, as teacher it is the poet who forms the moral 
standard of his age, holding up virtue and condemning 



226 SORDELLO 

vice, consciously shaping the good and the evil and 
forming the character of his time. Yet, like the material 
world around him, the poet is the product of evolution 
from simple to complex. The primitive bard marshalling 
" Life's elemental masque " is but the first of a series 
who even now have progressed far on their way towards 
complete mastery of the mysteries of human nature, and 
shall one day unveil to wondering man that last of 
mysteries — man's inmost life. To this end everything 
tends. Every poet is to some extent the essence of his 
predecessors, and in one point an advance upon them all : 
he is a stone in the structure, small perhaps, but neces- 
sary. So, even as at Venice, that mart of the world, 
beneath the shadow of the great cathedral's dome one 
may see the traces and evidence of countless religions, 
all of which have been, as it were, steps leading to the 
consummation revealed in Christianity, so one day will 
arise the consummation of the poet's art. 

The effect which Sordello's effort produced was hardly 
what its author contemplated. It was at once a success 
and a failure. It certainly had not the slightest effect 
in shaking Taurello's loyalty, much less in changing his 
politics, but it revealed to him a practical point which 
had an immense bearing on the whole situation — namely, 
that Palma was in love with Sordello. Palma was the 
keystone of the whole political arch; if she loved and 
married Sordello the whole Ghibelline cause was lost, 
and Salinguerra knew enough of Palma to know that 
love such as hers would sacrifice everything to its ideal. 
With an intuition almost uncanny he promptly did the 
one and only thing which might save the situation, to 
make Sordello Romano's head. It was, in fact, a great 
victory for Sordello ; it was also an appalling temptation. 
It was a tacit acknowledgment of ah that Sordello had 
just claimed for the Poet. From a practical standpoint 
it was a solution of all Taurello's difficulties. It gave a 
leader to the cause, it gave a name for Taurello to fight 
under, it retained Palma ! A mad act it was, but one 
with much method in it ; one of those intuitions behind 
which lies a long chain of rapid inferences, so rapid as 
to be taken as a rule for impulse. Sordello now domin- 
ates the situation : all depends upon his decision ; will he 
accept and renounce his principles or will he refuse ? 



BOOK THE FIFTH 

Is it the same Sordello in the dusk Book V 

As at the dawn ? — merely a perished husk 

Now, that arose a power fit to build 

Up Rome again ? The proud conception chilled 

So soon ? Ay, watch that latest dream of thine 

— A Rome indebted to no Palatine ] — 

Drop arch by arch, Sordello ! Art possessed 

Of thy wish now, rewarded for thy quest 

To-day among Ferrara's squalid sons ? The raw 

Are this and this and this the shining ones 10 material 

Meet for the Shining City ? Sooth to say, for the 

Your favoured tenantry pursue their way Rome 

After a fashion ! This companion slips 

On the smooth causey, t'other blinkard trips 

At his mooned sandal. " Leave to lead the brawls 

" Here i' the atria ? " No, friend ! He that sprawls 

On aught but a stibadium . . . what his dues 

Who puts the lustral vase to such an use 2 ? 

Oh, huddle up the day's disasters ! March, 

Ye runagates, and drop thou, arch by arch, 20 

Rome ! 

Yet before they quite disband — a whim 3 — 

7. possessed] possest. 12. Your] Our. 17. . . . what his 
dues] suffers . . . goose ... 18. Who puts] Puttest our. 

1 The Palatine was the site of the Imperial palace : Sordello's 
Rome would need neither king nor palace, for was it not to be 
the new Jerusalem ? 

2 These lines are illustrative of the hopeless depravity of the 
masses, by way of bringing home the futility of Sordello's dream 
if looked at as a practical issue. A stibadium was the Roman 
couch. 

3 Browning leads up to the enunciation of the truth (which 
was forced upon Sordello by the contrast between the real and 
the ideal) that " collective man outstrips the individual " by an 
illustration drawn from the gradual development of architecture. 
The anticipation of evolution throughout the book is remarkable, 

227 



228 SORDELLO 

Book V Study mere shelter, now, for him, and him, 

Nay, even the worst, — just house them ! Any cave 
The evol- Suffices : throw out earth ! A loophole ? Brave ! 

ution of They ask to feel the sun shine, see the grass 
a city Grow, hear the larks sing ? Dead art thou, alas, 
And I am dead ! But here's our son excels 
At hurdle-weaving any Scythian, fells 
Oak and devises rafters, dreams and shapes 
His dream into a door-post, just escapes 30 

The mystery of hinges. Lie we both 
Perdue another age. The goodly growth 
Of brick and stone ! Our building-pelt was rough, 
But that descendant's garb suits well enough 
A portico-contriver. Speed the years — 
What's time to us ? At last, a city rears 
Itself ! nay, enter — what's the grave to us ? 
Lo, our forlorn acquaintance carry thus 
The head ! Successively sewer, forum, cirque — 
Last age, an aqueduct was counted work, 40 

But now they tire the artificer upon 
Blank alabaster, black obsidion, 
— Careful, Jove's face be duly fulgurant, 
And mother Venus' kiss-creased nipples pant 
Back into pristine pulpiness, ere fixed 
Above the baths. What difference betwixt 
This Rome and ours- — resemblance what, between 
That scurvy dumb-show and this pageant sheen — 
These Romans and our rabble ? Use thy wit ! 
The work marched, step by step, — a workman fit 50 
Took each, nor too fit,- — to one task, one time, — 
No leaping o'er the petty to the prime, 1 
When just the substituting osier lithe 
For brittle bulrush, sound wood for soft withe, 
To further loam-and-roughcast-work a stage, — 

22. mere] a. 23. the worse] him. 30. His] that. 36. At 
last] And lo ! 38. Lo,] So. 39. The] A. 40. an] that. 48. 
That . . . this] the . . . the. 49. Use] Rest. 50. The work 
marched] And listen. 51. Took] with. 54. brittle, sound, soft] 
all omitted ; " and often " inserted. 



remembering that it was written twenty years before the publica- 
tion of the Origin of Species. 

1 This was the lesson Sordello had to learn. 



SORDELLO 229 

Exacts an architect, exacts an age : Book V 

No tables of the Mauritanian tree 

For men whose maple log's their luxury 1 ! 

That way was Rome built. " Better " (say you) Sordello's 

" merge method 

" At once all workmen in the demiurge, 60 

" All epochs in a lifetime, every task 
" In one ! " So should the sudden city bask 
I' the day — while those we'd feast there, want the 

knack 
Of keeping fresh-chalked gowns from speck and brack, 
Distinguish not rare peacock from vile swan, 
Nor Mareotic juice from Cascuban. 2 
" Enough of Rome ! 'Twas happy to conceive 
" Rome on a sudden, nor shall fate bereave 
" Me of that credit : for the rest, her spite 
" Is an old story— serves my folly right 70 

" By adding yet another to the dull 
" List of abortions — things proved beautiful 
" Could they be done, Sordello cannot do." 3 

He sat upon the terrace, plucked and threw 
The powdery aloe-cusps away, saw shift 
Rome's walls, and drop arch after arch, and drift 
Mist-like afar those pillars of all stripe, 
Mounds of all majesty. " Thou archetype, 
" Last of my dreams and loveliest, depart ! " 

And then a low voice wound into his heart : 80 

" Sordello ! " (low as some old Pythoness 

59. That . . . built] And Rome's accomplished ! 62. So . . . 
bask] undoubtedly. 65. rare . . . vile] your . . . your. 67. 
Enough of Rome] Nay sneer . . . enough ! 69. me] us. 70. my 
folly] us very . . . 72. abortions] devices. 81. low as some 
old] lower than a. 

1 Browning's way of saying that people who think ' deal ' is a 
luxury cannot go hankering after mahogany. 

2 Sordello forgets the slow development of man : what would 
be the use, even if Rome could be built in a day, of doing it, if 
the people therein were centuries behind in morals and intellect ? 
The practical point is how can he hope these brawling ignorant 
Romans will ever appreciate or carry out his dream of a spiritual- 
ized Rome ? 

3 The history of Rome is full of abortive efforts, such as that of 
Crescentius, ruined by the fickleness and turbulence of the Roman 
mob. Sordello's effort, if he ever makes it, will but add another 
name to the list of failures. Sordello has already learnt much. 



230 S0RDELL0 

Book V Conceding to a Lydian King's distress 

The cause of his long error — one mistake 
Of her past oracle) 1 " Sordello, wake ! 
" God has conceded two sights to a man — 
, " One, of men's whole work, time's completed plan, 

two sights " ^ ne other, of the minute's work, man's first 

" Step to the plan's completeness : what's dispersed 
" Save hope of that supreme step which, descried 
" Earliest, was meant still to remain untried 90 

" Only to give you heart to take your own 
" Step, and there stay, leaving the rest alone ? 
" Where is the vanity ? Why count as one 
" The first step, with the last step ? What is gone 
" Except Rome's aery magnificence, 
" That last step you'd take first ? — an evidence 
" You were God : be man now ! Let those glances fall ! 
" The basis, the beginning step of all, 
" Which proves you just a man — is that gone too ? 
" Pity to disconcert one versed as you 100 

" In fate's ill-nature ! but its full extent 
" Eludes Sordello, even : the veil rent, 
" Col- " Read the black writing — that collective man 
lective « Outstrips the individual. Who began 

^ri^-Jhe " The acknowledged greatnesses ? Ay, your own art 

indi- " Shall serve us : put the poet's mimes apart — 
vidual." " Close with the poet's self, and lo, a dim 

" Yet too plain form divides itself from him ! 

" Alcamo's song enmeshes the lulled Isle, 

" Woven into the echoes left erewhile no 

" By Nina, one soft web of song : no more 

" Turning his name, then, flower-like o'er and o'er ! 

" An elder poet in the younger 's place ; 

" Nina's strength, but Alcamo's the grace : 

85-92] omitted. 95. Rome's] that. 97. God ... be man 
now] were ... no matter. 99. Just a man] one of us. 105. 
The acknowledged greatnesses] The greatnesses you know ? 
107. poet's self, and lo] the poet-closer — what ? 114. reads. 
Take Nina's strength but lose Alcamo's grace. 

1 Croesus, King of Lydia, consulted the oracle of Apollo con- 
cerning the Persian War, and was told that if he made war he 
would overthrow a great power. He was defeated, and upon 
asking for an explanation was told that he might have asked 
whose kingdom was meant. (Herodotus, Bk. i. c. xcii.) 



SORDELLO 231 

" Each neutralizes x each then ! Search your fill ; Book V 

" You get no whole and perfect Poet — still Self-ex- 

" New Ninas, Alcamos, till time's mid-night pression 

" Shrouds all — or better say, the shutting light ne ^ er t 

" Of a forgotten yesterday. Dissect per ec 

" Every ideal workman a — (to reject 120 

" In favour of your fearful ignorance 3 

" The thousand phantasms eager to advance, 

" And point you but to those within your reach) — 

" Were you the first who brought — (in modern speech) 

" The Multitude to be materialized ? 

" That loose eternal unrest — who devised 

" An apparition i' the midst ? The rout 

" Was checked, a breathless ring was formed about 

" That sudden flower : get round at any risk The great 

" The gold- rough point el, silver- blazing disk 130 £? rces °jf 

" O' the lily ! Swords across it ! Reign thy reign tne past 

" And serve thy frolic service, Charlemagne 4 ! 

115. Search] Gaze. 123. point] refer. 124. brought, etc.] 
got, to use plain speech. 

1 Cf. Letters, vol. i. p. 58. " For never did man . . . like 
a thing, not to say love it, but I liked and loved it, one liking 
neutralizing the rebellious stir of its fellow, so that I don't go 
about now wanting the fixed stars before my time ; this world 
has not escaped me, thank God ; and, what other people say is 
the best of it, may not escape me after all, though until so very 
lately I made up my mind to do without it." — R. B. to E. E. B., 
May 1845." 

This was just what Sordello was going through. 

2 LI. 116-120. In 1st edition read — 

" Search further and the past presents you still 
New Nina's, new Alcamo's, time's midnight 
Concluding— better say it's evenlight 
Of Yesterday. You now in this respect 
Of benefitting people (to reject 
The favour of . . ." 
No one in this world is perfect, but however great poet or 
artist may be, he but expresses one part of the divine sympathy 
in which all past and present, great and small, have their places. 

3 A Browning comment. Ciullo d'Alcano, one of the earliest 
of Sicilian poets ; Nina, a Sicilian poetess, sometime called Nina 
of Dante, from the love she bore Dante of Majano, a poet she 
had never seen. (Duff, quoted from Tiraboschi.) 

4 Mankind only passes from his natural condition of being an 
aggregate of incoherent individuals (i.e. loose eternal unrest) 
to become a coherent homogeneous body (i.e. materialized) 



232 SORDELLO 

Book V " — The very child of over-joyousness, 

Charle- " Unfeeling thence, strong therefore : Strength by stress 
magne— " of Strength comes of that forehead confident, 

physical « x^ose widened eyes expecting heart's content, 
rce " A calm as out of just-quelled noise ; nor swerves 
" For doubt, the ample cheek in gracious curves 
" Abutting on the upthrust nether lip : 
" He wills, how should he doubt then? Ages slip : 140 
" Was it Sordello pried into the work 
" So far accomplished, and discovered lurk 
" A company amid the other clans, 
" Only distinct in priests for castellans 
" And popes for suzerains (their rule confessed 
" Its rule, their interest its interest, 
" Living for sake of living — there an end, — 
" Wrapt in itself, no energy to spend 
" In making adversaries or allies) — 
" Dived you into its capabilities 150 

" And dared create, out of that sect, a soul 
" Should turn a multitude, already whole, 
" Into its body ? Speak plainer ! Is't so sure 
" God's church lives, by a King's investiture x ? 
" Look to last step ! A staggering — a shock — 
" What's mere sand is demolished, while the rock 

135. that] a. 136. Those] Two. 

135-136. The change from the indefinite to the definite in the 
revised text gives point to the fact that Browning on his visit to 
Russia in 1834 had stayed at Aix, where in the council chamber 
of the Rathaus' he had seen the oldest, most famous portrait 
of Charlemagne. [Griffin, Life, p. 62.] Browning evidently 
recalled the picture. 

150. you] he. 153. Into its body] . To some account. 156. 
mere] omit, is] shall be. 



when a mind great enough to put a spiritual ideal before him is 
produced. Such an ideal will have some outward form or 
symbolic expression — a flag or national emblem (fleur de lys) 
around which men gather, the symbol becoming sacred and 
mankind lifted thereby. " The flower " here may be a legend or 
possibly it may refer to the fleur de lys which was given to Charle- 
magne by the Pope as a banner. " The rout who checked " sug- 
rests the story of Clovis' conversion. 

1 The Guelf-Ghibelline struggle had its rise in the quarrel over 
the Imperial right of investiture of the Bishops and clergy. 
[See Introd. § 13.] 



SORDELLO 233 

' Endures : a column of black fiery dust Book V 

' Blots heaven — that help was prematurely thrust 

' Aside, perchance ! — but air clears, nought's erased Hilde- 

' Of the true outline. Thus much being firm based 160 brand— 

' The other was a scaffold. See him stand spirit 

' Buttressed upon his mattock, Hildebrand 

' Of the huge brain-mask welded ply o'er ply 

' As in a forge ; it buries either eye 

' White and extinct, that stupid brow ; teeth clenched, 

' The neck tight-corded, too, the chin deep-trenched, 

' As if a cloud enveloped him while fought 

' Under its shade, grim prizers, thought with thought 

' At dead-lock, agonizing he, until 

' The victor thought leap radiant up, and Will, 170 

' The slave with folded arms and drooping lids 

' They fought for, lean forth flame-like as it bids. 

' Call him no flower — a mandrake of the earth, 

' Thwarted and dwarfed and blasted in its birth, 

' Rather, — a fruit of suffering's excess, 

' Thence feeling, therefore stronger : still by stress 

' Of Strength, work Knowledge ! Full three hundred 

years 
' Have men to wear away in smiles and tears 
' Between the two that nearly seemed to touch, 
' Observe you ! quit one workman and you clutch 180 
' Another, letting both their trains go by — 
' The actcrs-out of either's policy, 
' Heinrich, on this hand, Otho, Barbaross, 
' Carry the three Imperial crowns across, 
' Aix' Iron, Milan's Silver, and Rome's Gold 1 — 
' While Alexander, Innocent uphold 
' On that, each Papal key — but, link on link, 
' Why is it neither chain betrays a chink ? 
' How coalesce the small and great ? Alack, 
' For one thrust forward, fifty such fall back ! 190 

158. that help was] woe, woe 'tis. 159. perchance] that step. 
168. shade] all. 173. Call him no flower] a root, the crippled 
mandrake, etc. 175. Rather] Be certain. 184. three] omit; .. . 
May carry. 187. each] the. 

1 There is some confusion here. The German Crown (Aix) was 
silver, the Lombard (Milan) was iron, because it was said to 
contain a nail from the True Cross given by Gregory to Theodelinde, 
Queen of the Lombards, and the Roman, gold. 



234 SORDELLO 

Book V " Do the popes coupled there help Gregory 
Steps in " Alone ? Hark — from the hermit Peter's cry 
the vie- " At Claremont down to the first serf that says 
tor y° f " Friedrich's no liege of his while he delays 
spiritual " Getting the Pope's curse off him ! The Crusade — 
ideal " Or trick of breeding Strength by other aid 

" Than Strength is safe. Hark — from the wild harangue 
Crusades " Of Vimmercato, 1 to the carroch's clang 

" Yonder ! The League — or trick of turning Strength 
The " Against Pernicious Strength, is safe at length. 200 
Papal " Yet hark — from Mantuan Albert making cease 
League " T ne fierce ones, 2 to Saint Francis preaching peace 
" Yonder ! God's Truce — or trick to supersede 
" The very Use of Strength, is safe. Indeed 
God's " We trench upon the future. Who is found 
Truce " To take next step, next age — trail o'er the ground — 
" Shall I say, gourd-like ? — not the flower's display 
" Nor the root's prowess, but the plenteous way 
" O' the plant — produced by joy and sorrow, whence 
" Unfeeling and yet feeling, stringest thence ? 210 

The next " Knowledge by stress of merely Knowledge ? No — 
step ? " E' en were Sordello ready to forego 

" His life for this, 'twere overleaping work 

191. The reading of the 1st edition may have been suggested 
by the fact that before assuming the tiara himself Hildebrand 
had already nominated two Popes, Victor II. and Alexander II. 

191-2 reads : The couple there alone help Gregory. Hark from 
the Hermit Peter's thin sad cry. 193. down] yonder, omit " first." 
204. very] omit . . .; insert "at all" after strength. 205. 
is] shall. 206. to take] omit ; insert " plenteous " after trail. 
207-9 reads: Vine like producing joy and sorrow whence, 
unfeeling, etc. 211. Merely] omit; insert "is it" after 
knowledge. 213. life] work. 

1 At the end of Tom. viii. of Muratori (Ital. Rer. Script.), from 
which Browning drew much of his data, there is a poem entitled 
" Stephenardi de Vicomercato ordinis prsedicatorum de gestis 
in civitate Mediolani sub Othone Vicecomite Archiepiscopo 
Mediolanensi." This is probably the reference here. 

2 In Ferrara the spilling of blood was arrested for a brief space 
in 1207, by the voice of one Fra Alberto da Mantua preaching 
peace from the pulpit of the Duomo, which filled the people 
with such enthusiasm of brotherly kindness that forty-five 
families divided by blood-feuds fell upon each others' necks and 
made peace (Noyes, Ferrara, Mediasv. Town Series, p. 21). 
In 1233 a more famous reconciliation under the influence of Fra 
Giovanni da Vicenza took place. 



SORDELLO 235 

" Some one has first to do, howe'er it irk, Book V 

" Nor stray a foot's breadth from the beaten road. 

" Who means to help must still support the load 

" Hildebrand lifted—' why hast Thou,' he groaned, 

" ' Imposed on me a burthen, Paul had moaned, 

" ' And Moses dropped beneath ? ' Much done — and 

yet 
" Doubtless that grandest task God ever set 220 

" On man, left much to do : at his arm's wrench, 
" Charlemagne's scaffold fell ; but pillars blench 
" Merely start back again — perchance have been 
" Taken for buttresses : crash every screen, 
" Hammer the tenons x better, and engage 
" A gang about your work, for the next age 
" Or two, of Knowledge, part by Strength and part 
" By Knowledge ! Then, indeed, perchance may start 
" Sordello on his race — would time divulge 
" Such secrets ! If one step's awry, one bulge 230 

" Calls for correction by a step we thought 
" Got over long since, why, till that is wrought, 
" No progress ! And the scaffold in its turn Is Sor- 

" Becomes, its service o'er, a thing to spurn. del l° to 

" Meanwhile, if your half-dozen years of life instru- 

" In store dispose you to forego the strife, men t ? 

" Who takes exception ? Only bear in mind 
" Ferrara's reached, Goito's left behind : 
" As you then were, as half yourself, desist ! 
" — The warrior-part of you may, an it list, 240 

" Finding real faulchions difficult to poise, 
" Fling them afar and taste the cream of joys 

215 reads: No ends in sight yet of that second road. 218. 
on me a burthen] My God, a thing. 219. dropped] failed. 

222. That is, the scaffold erected by Charlemagne was pulled 
down by Hildebrand three centuries later. This whole passage 
has been so re-written in the 2nd edition that the differences 
are too numerous to notice, though in substance it remains the 
same. 

230. Would time, etc.] But who'll divulge time's secrets ? 
236. in store] longer . . . 

1 The end of a piece of timber cut so as to leave a third of the 
thickness forms a tenon, and the piece of timber which is joined 
to it has a mortice or slot cut through it to receive the tenon ; 
the two are then wedged or pinned with wooden pins (Encyclo. 
Brit.). Cf. iv. 559. 



236 



SORDELLO 



Book V 

Work, not 
dreaming, 

must be 
his 

method 



The 

rabble's 

woes 



" By wielding such in fancy, — what is bard 

" Of you may spurn the vehicle that marred 

" Elys so much, and in free fancy glut 

" His sense, yet write no verses — you have but 

" To please yourself for law, and once could please 

" What once appeared yourself, by dreaming these 

" Rather than doing these, in days gone by. 

" But all is changed the moment you descry 250 

" Mankind as half yourself, — then, fancy's trade 

" Ends once and always : how many half evade 

" The other half ? men are found half of you. 

" Out of a thousand helps, just one or two 

" Can be accomplished presently : but flinch 

" From these (as from the faulchion, raised an inch, 

" Elys, described a couplet) and make proof 

" Of fancy, — then, while one half lolls aloof 

" I' the vines, completing Rome to the tip-top — 

" See if, for that, your other half will stop 260 

" A tear, begin a smile ! The rabble's woes, 

" Ludicrous in their patience as they chose 

" To sit about their town and quietly 

" Be slaughtered, — the poor reckless soldiery, 

" With their ignoble rhymes on Richard, how 

" ' Polt-foot,' sang they, ' was in a. pitfall now,' 

" Cheering each other from the engine-mounts, — 

" That crippled spawling idiot who recounts 

" How, lopped of limbs, he lay, stupid as stone, 

" Till the pains crept from out him one by one, 270 

" And wriggles round the archers on his head 

" To earn a morsel of their chestnut bread, — 

" And Cino, 1 always in the self -same place 

" Weeping ; beside that other wretch's case, 

" Eyepits to ear, one gangrene since he plied 

" The engine in his coat of raw sheep's hide 

" A double watch in the noon sun ; and see 

" Lucchino, beauty, with the favours free, 

246. yet write no] on her free. 249. in days, etc.] now fancy's 
trade. 250. is ended. 
251-253 reads 

" Now fancy's trade 
Is ended, mind, nor one half may evade 
The other half : our friends are half of you." 

1 Bk. iv. 91 ff. 



SORDELLO 



237 



Trim hacqueton, spruce beard and scented hair, book V 

" Campaigning it for the first time— cut there 280 

" In two already, boy enough to crawl 
'' For latter orpine round the southern wall, 
*| Toma, where Richard's kept, because that whore 
" Marfisa, the fool never saw before, 
" Sickened for flowers this wearisomest siege : 
" And Tiso's wife ] — men liked their pretty liege, 
" Cared for her least of whims once, — Berta wed, 
" A twelvemonth gone, and, now poor Tiso's dead, 
" Delivering herself of his first child 
" On that chance heap of wet filth, reconciled 290 

" To fifty gazers ! " — (Here a wind below 
Made moody music augural of woe 
From the pine barrier) — " What if, now the scene 
" Draws to a close, yourself have really been 
" — You, plucking purples in Goito's moss 
" Like edges of a trabea (not to cross 
" Your consul-humour) or dry aloe-shafts 
" For fasces, at Ferrara — he, fate wafts, 
" This very age, her whole inheritance 
" Of opportunities ? Yet you advance 300 

" Upon the last ! Since talking is your trade, 
" There's Salinguerra left you to persuade : 
" Fail ! then "— 

" No — no — which latest chance secure ! " The In- 
Leaped up and cried Sordello : " this made sure s terview 
" The past were yet redeemable ; its work 
" Was — help the Guelfs, whom I, howe'er it irk, 

279. spruce beard and] and sprucely. 294. close] shutting ; 
omit if . . . 297. consul-humour] consul-feeling. 298. For 
fasces] omit, insert Here fate] fortune. 299. whole] best. 303. 
Fail] And. 304. Leaped] Leapt. 

1 Bk. iii. 302 ; iv. 615. Verci gives a tree of the Camposampieri 
family, but does not mention Berta as his wife. Further on, 
however, in discussing the marriage of Palma Novella with 
Alberto da Baone, he quotes from a deed in which Tisolino was 
chosen to partition Alberto's inheritance among the family, 
by his widow, Bertalina, and others. The opening words may 
have suggested the name to Browning. Tisolino da Campo- 
sampiero fu eletto dalla signora Bertalina per Sophia ed EHca 
sue figlie, e da Jacobino, etc. ... ad assegnare le parti de beni 
del quand. Albertino da Baone. The passage is of further 
interest, as one of the interested parties was Taurello, on behalf 
of " Arvero suo figlio e per la signora India sua moglie." 



238 SORDELLO 

Book V " Thus help ! " He shook the foolish aloe-haulm 
Out of his doublet, paused, proceeded calm 
To the appointed presence. The large head 
Turned on its socket ; " And your spokesman," said 310 
The large voice, " is Elcorte's happy sprout ? 
" Few such " — (so finishing a speech no doubt 
Addressed to Palma, silent at his side) 
" — My sober councils have diversified. 
" Elcorte's son ! good : forward as you may, 
" Our lady's minstrel with so much to say ! " 
The hesitating sunset floated back, 
Rosily traversed in the wonted track 
The The chamber, from the lattice o'er tbe girth 
Chamber Of pines, to the huge eagle blacked in earth 320 

Opposite, — outlined sudden, spur to crest, 
That solid SaJinguerra, and caressed 
Palma's contour : 'twas day looped back night's pall ; 
Sordello had a chance left spite of all. 

And much he made of the convincing speech 
Meant to compensate for the past and reach 
Through his youth's daybreak of unprofit, quite 
To his noon's labour, so proceed till night 
Leisurely ! The great argument to bind 
Taurello with the Guelf Cause, body and mind, 330 
— Came the consummate rhetoric to that ? 
Yet most Sordello's argument dropped flat 
Through bis accustomed fault of breaking yoke, 
Disjoining him who felt from him who spoke. 
Was't not a touching incident — so prompt 
A rendering the world its just accompt, 

Why his Once proved its debtor ? Who'd suppose, before 
speech Xhis proof, that he, Goito's god of yore, 
31 e At duty's instance could demean himself 

So memorably, dwindle to a Guelf ? 340 

Be sure, in such delicious flattery steeped, 

His inmost self at the out-portion peeped, 

Thus occupied ; then stole a glance at those 

Appealed to, curious if her colour rose 

Or his lip moved, while he discreetly urged 

The need of Lombardy becoming purged 

At soonest of her barons ; the poor part 

315. good] but. 318. the wonted] a single. 329. Leisurely] 
at leisure. Great argument] contrivances. 330. Guelf] omitted. 



SORDELLO 239 

Abandoned thus, missing the blood at heart Book V 

And spirit in brain, unseasonably off 

Elsewhere ! But, though his speech was worthy scoff, 

Good-humoured Salinguerra, famed for tact 351 

And tongue, who, careless of his phrase, ne'er lacked 

The right phrase, and harangued Honorius dumb 

At his accession, 1 — looked as all fell plumb 

To purpose and himself found interest 

In every point his new instructor pressed 

— Left playing with the rescript's white wax seal Taur- 

To scrutinize Sordello head and heel. ell °' s 

He means to yield assent sure ? No, alas ! sa ire 

All he replied was, " What, it comes to pass 360 

" That poesy, sooner than politics, 

" Makes fade young hair ? " To think such speech 

could fix 
Taurello ! 

Then a flash of bitter truth : 
So fantasies could break and fritter youth 
That he had long ago lost earnestness, 

Lost will to work, lost power to even express Sordello 

The need of working ! Earth was turned a grave : sees his 

No more occasions now, though he should crave failure 

Just one, in right of superhuman toil, 
To do what was undone, repair such spoil, 370 

Alter the past — nothing would give the chance ! 
Not that he was to die ; he saw askance 
Protract the ignominious years beyond 
To dream in — time to hope and time despond, 
Remember and forget, be sad, rejoice 
As saved a trouble ; he might, at his choice, 
One way or other, idle life out, drop 
No few smooth verses by the way — for prop, 

352. And tongue] That way. 

359. reads : Then means he . . . yes, assent sure ? Well ? 
Alas 

He said no more than, 

363. of bitter] He knew the truth. 366. Even] omitted. 
367. reads, " Even the need of working ! " Ere the grave. 369. 
Just one] one such. 371. nothing would] nought brings 
again. 376. he might at] suited to. 

1 There is no mention of this as an historical fact in the 
authorities ; it is probably imaginary. 



240 SORDELLO 

Book V A thyrsus, these sad people, all the same, 

Should pick up, and set store by, — far from blame, 380 
Plant o'er his hearse, convinced his better part 
Survived him. 1 "Rather tear men out the heart 
" O' the truth ! " — Sordello muttered, and renewed 
His propositions for the Multitude. 

But Salinguerra, who at this attack 
Had thrown great breast and ruffling corslet back 
To hear the better, smilingly resumed 
His task ; beneath, the carroch's warning boomed ; 
He must decide with Tito ; courteously 
He turned then, even seeming to agree 390 

TaureUo's With his admonisher — " Assist the Pope, 

scornful " Extend Guelf domination, fill the scope 
acqui- « o' the Church, thus based on All, by All, for All— 
escence „ Change Secular to Evangelical "— 

Echoing his very sentence : all seemed lost, 

When suddenly he looked up, laughingly almost, 

To Palma : " This opinion of your friend's — 

" For instance, would it answer Palma's ends ? 

" Best, were it not, turn Guelf, submit our Strength " — 

(Here be drew out his baldric to its length) 400 

— " To the Pope's knowledge — let our captive slip, 

" Wide to the walls throw ope our gates, equip 

" Azzo with . . . what I hold here ! Who'll subscribe 

" To a trite censure of the minstrel tribe 

" Henceforward ? or pronounce, as Heinrich used, 

" ' Spear-heads for battle, burr-heads for the joust ! ' 

" — When Constance, for his couplets, would promote 

" Alcamo, from a parti-coloured coat, 

" To holding her lord's stirrup in the wars. 

" Not that I see where couplet-making jars 410 

" With common sense : at Mantua I had borne 

" This chanted, better than their most forlorn 

379. all] should. 380. after by insert so far and so. 385. at 
this] the last. 386. Had . . . end] Threw himself in his. 
388. His] some. 392. Guelf] his. 396. up] omitted. 400. his] 
the . . . 401. our captive] Richard. 402. our] your. 403. 
What I hold here] but no matter. 412. better] easier. 

1 The thyrsus, a stick wrapped round with ivy, was carried 
as an emblem of devotion by the followers of Bacchus — this 
would be the fate of Sordello's Songs — of no use or value, but just 
a memento — and all would think this was his best ! 



SORDELLO 



241 



" Of bull-baits,— that's indisputable ! " 

Brave ! 
Whom vanity nigh slew, contempt shall save ! 
All's at an end : a Troubadour suppose 
Mankind will class him with their friends or foes ? 
A puny uncouth ailing vassal think 
The world and him bound in some special link ? 
Abrupt the visionary tether burst. 
What were rewarded here, or what amerced 420 

If a poor drudge, solicitous to dream 
Deservingly, got tangled by his theme 
So far as to conceit the knack or gift, 
Or whatsoe'er it be, of verse, might lift 
The globe, a lever like the hand and head 
Of — " Men of Action," as the Jongleurs said, 
— " The Great Men," in the people's dialect 1 ? 

And not a moment did this scorn affect 
Sordello : scorn the poet ? They, for once, 
Asking " what was," obtained a full response. 430 

Bid Naddo think at Mantua — he had but 
To look into his promptuary, put 
Finger on a set thought in a set speech : 
But was Sordello fitted thus for each 
Conjecture ? Nowise ; since within his soul, 
Perception brooded unexpressed and whole. 
A healthy spirit like a healthy frame 
Craves aliment in plenty— all the same, 
Changes, assimilates its aliment. 

413. bull-baits] bull - fights. 41 
special. 433. Finger] His hand. 435 
438. all] and 

1 This paragraph is Sordello's interpretation of Salinguerra's 
opinion of him. What Taurello really thinks, but has not said 
— the real meaning of his sarcasm. So your opinion is, says 
Sordello to himself as he regards Taurello, that I am a mere 
Troubadour too insignificant for real men such as yourself even 
to class among friends or foes ? a puny vassal ridiculous enough 
to think he is somebody of importance ? That it is a matter of 
utter indifference one way or the other that I conceive my 
power of song a real power to lift men ? You " men of action," 
" great men in the people's dialect," are the true force in the 
world, are you ? Well, we will see. And then Sordello proceeds 
to prove that, as thinker, he is master and Taurello man. The 
visionary tether, the land of make-believe in which Sordello 
lived, burst, and what he truly thinks comes forth at last. 



Book V 

Rouses 
Sordello 
at last 



Sordello's 
know- 
ledge a 
real thing 
and novel 
withal 



!. bound: special] omit 
Conjecture] conjuncture. 



242 SORDELLO 

Book V Perceived Sordello, on a truth intent ? 440 

Next day no formularies more you saw 
Than figs or olives in a sated maw. 
Tis Knowledge, whither such perceptions tend ; 
They lose themselves in that, means to an end, 
The many old producing some one new, 
A last unlike the first. If lies are true, 
The Caliph's wheel-work man of brass receives 
A meal, munched millet grains and lettuce leaves 
Together in his stomach rattle loose ; 
You find them perfect next day to produce : 450 

But ne'er expect the man, on strength of that, 
Can roll an iron camel-collar flat 
Like Haroun's self ! I tell you, what was stored 
Bit by bit through Sordello's life, outpoured 
That eve, was, for that age, a novel thing : 
And round those three the People formed a ring, 
Of visionary judges whose award 
He recognised in full — faces that barred 
Henceforth return to the old careless life. 
In whose great presence, therefore, his first strife 460 
For their sake must not be ignobly fought ; 
All these, for once, approved of him, he thought, 
He for- Suspended their own vengeance, chose await 

gets him- jjjg i ssue f this strife to reinstate 
Se last Them in the right of taking it— in fact 

He must be proved king ere they could exact 

Vengeance for such king's defalcation. Last, 

A reason why the phrases flowed so fast 

Was in his quite forgetting for a time 

Himself in his amazement that the rhyme 470 

Disguised the royalty so much : he there — 

And Salinguerra yet all-unaware 

Who was the lord, who liegeman ! 

" Thus I lay 
" On thine my spirit and compel obey 

447. Wheelwork] Haroun. 448. munched] ay. 454. Bit by 
bit] parcel by parcel. Sordello's] his. 457-462] omitted. 466. 
King] their lord. 467. Vengeance] amends 
471-3. reads: 

" He there 
They full face to him — and yet unaware 
Who was the king and who . . . But if I lay. . 



SORDELLO 243 

' His lord, — my liegeman, — impotent to build Book V 

' Another Rome, but hardly so unskilled His plea 

' In what such builder should have been, as brook 

' One shame beyond the charge that I forsook 

' His function ! Free me from that shame, I bend 

' A brow before, suppose new years to spend, — 480 

' Allow each chance, nor fruitlessly, recur — 

' Measure thee with the Minstrel, then, demur 

' At any crowd he claims ! That I must cede 

' Shamed now, my right to my especial meed — 

' Confess thee fitter help the world than I 

' Ordained its champion from eternity, 

' Is much : but to behold thee scorn the post 

' I quit in thy behalf — to hear thee boast The poet 

' What makes my own despair ! " And while he rung earth '? 

The changes on this theme, the roof up-sprung, 490 ^^ a 

The sad walls of the presence-chamber died 

Into the distance, or embowering vied 

With far-away Goito's vine-frontier ; 

And crowds of faces — (only keeping clear 

The rose-light in the midst, his vantage-ground 

To fight their battle from) — deep clustered round 

Sordello, with good wishes no mere breath, 

Kind prayers for him no vapour, since, come death 

Come life, he was fresh sinewed every joint, 

Each bone new-marrowed as whom gods anoint 500 

Though mortal to their rescue. Now let sprawl 

The snaky volumes hither ! Is Typhon all 

For Hercules to trample — good report 

From Salinguerra only to extort 1 ? 

475. my liegeman] Taurello ? 479. Free me from] Set me free. 
483. crowd] crown. 483. Shamed now] As 'tis. 485. thee] you. 
488-9. reads] as aught to boast — unless you help the world ! 

1 Now that for once Sordello is aroused and in earnest he feels 
the mere task of convincing Taurello insufficient — 'tis but a 
paltry incident in the greater task of dealing with mankind in 
the mass. His strength comes back — •" he knew a sometime 
deed again." He speaks for man and to man as a prophet, 
pleading the cause of the deeper powers of man against the tyranny 
•of mere physical oppression. In this he is far before his age. 
It is the highest point he touches — 

" The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard 
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky, 
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard." 



244 SORDELLO 

Book V " So was I " (closed he his inculcating „ 

A poet must be earth's essential king) 
" So was I, royal so, and if I fail, 
" Tis not the royalty, ye witness quail, 
" But one deposed who, caring not exert 
" Its proper essence, trifled malapert 51c 

" With accidents instead — good things assigned 
His •• As heralds of a better thing behind — 

royalty, « And) wort ] 1 y through display of these, put forth 
" Never the inmost all-surpassing worth 
" That constitutes him king precisely since 
" As yet no other spirit may evince 
" Its like : the power he took most pride to test, 
" Whereby all forms of life had been professed 
" At pleasure, forms already on the earth, 
" Was but a means to power beyond, whose birth 520 
" Should, in its novelty, be kingship's proof. 
" Now, whether he came near or kept aloof 
" The several forms he longed to imitate , 
" Not there the kingship lay, he sees too late. 1 
" Those forms, unalterable first as last, 
" Proved him her copier, not the protoplast 
" Of nature : what would come of being free, 
" By action to exhibit tree for tree, 
" Bird, beast, for beast and bird, or prove earth bore 
" One veritable man or woman more ? > 530 

" Means to an end, such proofs are : what the end ? 
" Let essence, whatsoe'er it be, extend — 
" Never contract. Already you include 
" The multitude ; then let the multitude 
" Include yourself ; and the result were new : 
" Themselves before, the multitude turn you. 

512. As heralds] The herald. 516. spirit] creature. 520. be- 
yond whose] whose novel. 523-524] omitted. 530. one] a. 532. 
Let] Your. 535. were] is. 

1 His first point is that though he has hitherto only used his 
power for trifling purposes, to amuse the crowd to whom he 
sang, and to get praise thereby, yet its deeper possibilities of 
influence still remain intact. His next point is that his illustrative 
and imitative art as a poet, which he had mistaken for the essence 
of royalty, he now sees to be mere accessories which are to be 
used not as ends in themselves, but as means to simplify the 
driving home of the truths that man needed. 



SORDELLO 245 

" This were to live and move and have, in them, B °° K v 

" Your being, and secure a diadem 

" You should transmit (because no cycle yearns 

" Beyond itself, but on itself returns) 540 

" When, the full sphere in wane, the world o'erlaid 

" Long since with you, shall have in turn obeyed 

" Some orb still prouder, some displayer, still 

" More potent than the last, of human will, 

" And some new king depose the old. 1 Of such 

" Am I — whom pride of this elates too much ? 

" Safe, rather say, 'mid troops of peers again ; 

"I, with my words, hailed brother of the train 

" Deeds once sufficed : for, let the world roll back, The dawn 

" Who fails, through deeds howe'er diverse, retrack 550 of Son S 

" My purpose still, my task 2 ? A teeming crust — 

" Air, flame, earth, wave at conflict ! Then, needs must 

" Emerge some Calm embodied, these refer 

" The brawl to— yellow-bearded Jupiter ? 

" No ! Saturn ; some existence like a pact 

" And protest against Chaos, some first fact 

" I' the faint of time. My deep of life, I know 

" Is unavailing e'en to poorly show "... 

(For here the Chief immeasurably yawned) 

..." Deeds in their due gradation till Song dawned — 

" The fullest effluence of the finest mind, 561 

" All in degree, no way diverse in kind 

539. You should] That's to. 552. Then] see! 554. The 
brawl to] Saturn — no. 555. No Saturn] the brawl to. 

1 The end for which the poet strives must be to make the 
people see and value truth even as the poet does himself. So 
that the multitude turn poet. This can only be done by the 
poet's first entering into their point of view and transfiguring 
their simple truths with the magic of his own personality. Then, 
work is done, man takes a step forward until some new and greater 
force arises to urge them forward once again. 

2 No matter how far you go back in history, Sordello claims 
that his dictum that the thinker, not the mere man of action, is 
the true power, holds good. In savage life the real power is 
not the strongest man in the tribe, but the witch-doctor who 
stands for the thinking power, whose influence is brain, not 
muscle. Even in the Roman mythology in its rudest form, the 
idea underlying the feast of the Saturnalia which was kept in 
memory of the supposed golden age of peace existing under the 
rule of Saturn, implies the idea of a thinking force who brought 
calm out of chaos by justice. 



246 SORDELLO 

Book V " From minds about it, minds which, more or less, 
" Lofty Gr low, move seeking to impress 
" Themselves on somewhat ; but one mind has climbed 
" Step after step, by just ascent sublimed. 
" Thought is the soul of act, and, stage by stage, 
" Soul is from body still to disengage 
" As tending to a freedom which rejects 
" Such help and incorporeally affects 57c 

" The world, producing deeds but not by deeds, 
Produces " Swaying, in others, frames itself exceeds, 

*t cts ^ y " Assigning them the simpler tasks it used 
only " To P atientl y perform till Song produced 

" Acts, by thoughts only, for the mind : divest 
" Mind of e'en Thought, and, lo, God's unexpressed 
" Will draws above us x ! All then is to win 
" Save that. How much for me, then ? where begin 
" My work ? About me, faces ! and they flock, 
" The earnest faces. What shall I unlock 580 

" By song ? behold me prompt, whate'er it be, 
" To minister : how much can mortals see 
The " Of Life ? No more than so ? I take the task 

scope of « A n< j marshal you Life's elemental masque, 
ong " Show Men, on evil or on good lay stress, 

" This light, this shade make prominent, suppress 

•" All ordinary hues that softening blend 

" Such natures with the level. Apprehend 

" Which sinner is, which saint, if I allot 

" Hell, Purgatory, Heaven, a blaze or blot, 590 

563. Minds] those. 564. Move seeking to] in moving seek. 
577. draws] dawns. All then is to] But so much. to. 578 reads — 
Ere that ! A lesser round of steps within. The last. 

583. No more than so] No more ? I covet the first task. 
585. Show] Of. 589-590 reads — 

" Which evil is which good if I allot 
Your Hell, the Purgatory, Heaven ye wot." 

1 The tendency of man's development, says Browning, is the 
elimination of the physical and its replacement by mental power. 
Gunpowder (the result of thought), said Carlyle, makes all men 
equally tall. Machinery, again (the result of thought), replaces 
human labour. In the earlier stages the Bard was the only 
thinker and the Poet is the highest impression of the same 
truth. Thought is the apex of human power ; pure mind, inde- 
pendent of the medium of brain, is God. 



SORDELLO 247 

" To those you doubt concerning ! I enwomb Book V 

" Some wretched Friedrich with his red-hot tomb x ; The 
" Some dubious spirit, Lombard Agilulph 2 judge of 

" With the black chastening river I engulph ! |°° d and 

" Some unapproached Matilda I enshrine 
" With languors of the planet of decline — 
" These, fail to recognize, to arbitrate 
" Between henceforth, to rightly estimate 
" Thus marshalled in the masque ! Myself, the while, 
" As one of you, am witness, shrink or smile 600 

" At my own showing ! Next age — what's to do ? 
" The men and women stationed hitherto 
" Will I unstation, good and bad, conduct 

" Each nature to its farthest, or obstruct character 

" At soonest, in the world : light, thwarted, breaks 
" A limpid purity to rainbow flakes, 
" Or shadow, massed, freezes to gloom : behold 
" How such, with fit assistance to unfold, 
" Or obstacles to crush them, disengage 
" Their forms, love, hate, hope, fear, peace make, war 
wage, 610 

" In presence of you all ! Myself, implied 
" Superior now, as, by the platforms' side, 
" I bade them do and suffer, — would last content 
" The world . . . no — that's too far ! I circumvent 
" A few, my masque contented, and to these 
" Offer unveil the last of mysteries — 

607. massed] helped. 613. I bade] bidding them ... to 
content. 614. too far] I wait not. 615. my masque] it has. 

1 According to Dante, Hell, Canto x., this was the doom of the 
" Epicureans," i.e. those who within the Church went back to 
the teaching of the heathen philosophers. Frederic II. was 
among them. A similar idea, but of much earlier date, is told by 
a monkish chronicler of Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charle- 
magne, that in consequence of a dream his tomb was opened, 
" and lo ! there issued forth a dragon and the tomb was found 
blackened within, as with fire." The Legend arose out of 
monkish hatred on account of his alienation of Church lands. 
See Kitchen, Hist, of France, vol. i. p. 116, note. 

2 Agilulf was King of the Lombards who overran Italy in the 
sixth century. He was the second husband of their Queen 
Theodelinda, mainly through whose efforts the Lombards aban- 
doned Arianism and became reconciled to Rome. " Dubious " 
refers probably to his faith. A converted. Ajian might be justly 
so regarded.. 



248 



SORDELLO 



Book V 

and 
human 
motives 



The poet's 
art pro- 
gressive 



Man's inmost life shall have yet freer play : 

Once more I cast external things away, 

And natures composite, so decompose 

That . . . But enough ! Why fancy how I rose x 620 

And how have you advanced ! since evermore 

Yourselves effect what I was fain before 

Effect, what I supplied yourselves suggest, 

What I leave bare yourselves can now invest, 

How we attain to talk as brothers talk, 

In half-words, call things by half-names, no balk 

From discontinuing old aids. To-day 

Takes in account the work of Yesterday : 

Has not the world a Past now, its adept 

Consults ere he dispense with or accept 630 

New aids ? a single touch more may enhance, 

A touch less turn to insignificance 

Those structures' symmetry the past has strewed 

The world with, once so bare. Leave the mere rude 

Explicit details ! 'tis but brother's speech 

We need, speech where an accent's change gives each 

The other's soul — no speech to understand 

By former audience : need was then to expand, 

Expatiate — hardly were we brothers ! true — 

Nor I lament my small remove from you, 640 

Nor reconstruct what stands already. Ends 

Accomplished turn to means : my art intends 

New structure from the ancient : as they changed 

The spoils of every clime at Venice, ranged 

The horned and snouted Libyan god, upright 

As in his desert, by some simple bright 

Clay cinerary pitcher — Thebes as Rome, 

Athens as Byzant rifled, till their Dome 

From earth's reputed consummations razed 

617. inmost] omitted ; (line begins) I boast. 619. varied] com- 
posite. 620. That . . . why he writes Sordetto \ 621 . how have 
you] or rather how you. 639. we] they. 640. small] less. 

1 1 have here inserted the 1st edition reading, confining the 
reading of the revised edition to the notes. The reason of this is 
the anticlimax produced by the words " He writes Sordetto," 
which ruins the whole speech and is only intelligible when we 
remember the outcry as to Sordello's intelligibility which followed 
its publication. Browning sacrificed his art to his love of 
sarcasm and a desire to laugh at his critics when he rewrote 
this line. 



SORDELLO 249 

" A seal, the all-transmuting Triad blazed 650 Book V 

" Above. 1 Ah, whose that fortune ? Ne'ertheless 

" E'en he must stoop contented to express 

" No tithe of what's to say — the vehicle 

" Never sufficient : but his work is still 

" For faces like the faces that select 

" The single service I am bound effect, — 

" That bid me cast aside such fancies, bow 

" Taurello to the Guelf cause, disallow 

" The Kaiser's coming — which with heart, soul, strength, 

" I labour for, this eve, who feel at length 660 

" My past career's outrageous vanity, 

" And would, as its amends, die, even die 

" Now I first estimate the boon of life, 

" If death might win compliance — sure, this strife 

" Is right for once — the People my support." 

My poor Sordello ! what may we extort 
By this, I wonder ? Palma's lighted eyes 
Turned to Taurello who, long past surprise, Taurello 

Began, " You love him— what you'd say at large t0 Palma 

" Let me say briefly. 2 First, your father's charge 670 
" To me, his friend, peruse : I guessed indeed 
" You were no stranger to the course decreed. 
" He bids me leave his children to the saints : 
" As for a certain project, he acquaints 
" The Pope with that, and offers him the best 
" Of your possessions to permit the rest 
" Go peaceably — to Ecelin, a stripe 

657 reads — Nor murmur, bid me, still as poet, bow.. 662. its] 
vain. 664. win compliance] bow Taurello. 665. right for once] 
the last strife. 668. long] as. 670. Let] If. 673. He bids me] 
Us both : I. 

1 See Introd. to Bk. v. 

2 Though the drift and substance of Sordello's speech is quite 
lost upon Taurello, he grasps at once in all its bearings the one 
practical point that emerges from it, namely, that Palma is in 
love with him. From this he deduces ; he is a Guelf, she will 
yield her will to his, ergo, the cause of Romano with Palma for 
the centrepiece is lost. Then the idea comes to him why, must 
it be Romano ? Why not found a party of his own ? From this 
comes the notion of marrying Palma and Sordello and, so to 
speak, running the old firm under a new name. The one obstruc- 
tion is Sordello's will and Guelf principles, to overcome which 
he plays his last trump card and flings the badge across his neck, 
making him thereby Imperial Vicar and Romano's head. 



250 



S0RDELL0 



Book V 



The crisis 
lost 



No, why 

not start 

a new 

party ? 



Of soil the cursed Vicentines will gripe, 

— To Alberic, a patch the Trevisan 

Clutches already ; extricate, who can, 680 

Treville, Villarazzi, Puissolo, 

Loria and Cartiglione ! — all must go, 

And with them go my hopes. Tis lost, then ! Lost 

This eve, our crisis, and some pains it cost 

Procuring ; thirty years — as good I'd spent 

Like our admonisher ! But each his bent 

Pursues : no question, one might live absurd 

Oneself this while, by deed as he by word 

Persisting to obtrude an influence where 

'Tis made account of, much as . . . nay, you fare 690 

With twice the fortune, youngster ! — I submit, 

Happy to parallel my waste of wit 

With the renowned Sordello's : you decide 

A course for me. Romano may abide 

Romano, — Bacchus ! After all, what dearth 

Of Ecelins and Alberics on earth ? 

Say there's a prize in prospect, must disgrace 

Betide competitors, unless they style 

Themselves Romano ? Were it worth my while 

To try my own luck 1 ! But an obscure place 700 

Suits me — there wants a youth to bustle, stalk 

And attitudinize — some fight, more talk, 

Most flaunting badges — how, I might make clear 

Since Friedrich's very purposes lie here 

• — Here, pity they are like to lie ! For me, 

With station fixed unceremoniously 

Long since, small use contesting ; I am but 

The liegeman — you are born the lieges : shut 

That gentle mouth now ! or resume your kin 

In your sweet self ; were Palma Ecelin 710 

For me to work with ! Could that neck endure 

This bauble for a cumbrous garniture, 

She should ... or might one bear it for her ? Stay — 

695. After all what] Who'd suppose the. 697. prize] thing. 
699. were it . . . luck] omitted. 703. how, I might] 'twere not 
hard. 706. With] Whose. 711. to work with] and welcome. 
713. She] You. 

1 What's in a name ? thinks Taurello ; can I not pursue the 
same ends under some other segis than Romano, either found a 
party of my own or — marry these two and fight under thera ? 



SORDELLO 



251 



upon 
Sordello 



" I have not been so flatterd many a day Book V 

" As by your pale friend — Bacchus ! The least help 

" Would lick the hind's fawn to a lion's whelp : 

" His neck is broad enough — a ready tongue 

" Beside : too writhled ] — but, the main thing, young — 

" I could . . . why, look ye ! " 

And the badge was thrown 
Across Sordello's neck : " This badge alone 720 Throws 

" Makes you Romano's Head — becomes superb &» 

" On your bare neck, which would, on mine, disturb ba ' s "' : 
" The pauldron," said Taurello. A mad act, 
Nor even dreamed about before — in fact, 
Not when his sportive arm rose for the nonce — 
But he had dallied overmuch, this once, 
With power : the thing was done, and he, aware 
The thing was done, proceeded to declare — 
(So like a nature made to serve, excel 
In serving, only feel by service well ! ) 730 

— That he would make Sordello that and more. 
" As good a scheme as any. What's to pore 
" At in my face ? " he asked — " ponder instead 
" This piece of news ; you are Romano's Head ! 
" One cannot slacken pace so near the goal, 
" Suffer my Azzo to escape heart-whole 
" This time ! For you there's Palma to espouse — 
" For me, one crowning trouble ere I house 
" Like my compeer." 

On which ensued a strange 
And solemn visitation ; there came change 
O'er every one of them ; each looked on each : 
Up in the midst a truth grew, with outspeech. 
And when the giddiness sank and the haze 
Subsided, they were sitting, no amaze, 
Sordello with the baldric on, his sire 
Silent, though his proportions seemed aspire 
Momently ; and, interpreting the thrill, — 
Night at its ebb, — Palma was found there still 

721. becomes superb] the Lombard's curb. 722. bare] omit: 
turns on, etc. 731. Sordello that] him all he said and. 740. 
there came] mighty. 748. was] you. 



740 The 

recogni- 
tion 



1 Wrinkled. 
Spenser. 



Her writhled skin as rough as maple rind." — 



252 



SORDELLO 



Book V Relating somewhat Adelaide confessod 

A year ago, while dying on her breast, — 
Of a contrivance, that Vicenza night 

Palma's when Ecelin had birth. " Their convoy's flight, 



750 



story 



Adel- 
aide's 



" Cut off a moment, coiled inside the flame 
" That wallowed like a dragon at his game 
" The toppling city through — San Biagio rocks * ! 
" And wounded lies in her delicious locks 
" Retrude, the frail mother, on her face, 
" None of her wasted, just in one embrace 
" Covering her child : when, as they lifted her, 
" Cleaving tbe tumult, mighty, mightier 760 

" And mightiest Taurello's cry outbroke, 
" Leapt like a tongue of fire that cleaves the smoke, 
" Midmost to cheer his Mantuans onward — drown 
" His colleague Ecelin's clamour, up and down 
" The disarray : failed Adelaide see then 
" Who was the natural chief, the man of men ? 
" Outstripping time, her infant there burst swathe, 
" Stood up with eyes haggard beyond the scathe 
1 " From wandering after his heritage 
" Lost once and lost for aye : and why that rage, 770 
" That deprecating glance ? A new shape leant 
" On a familiar shape — gloatingly bent 
" O'er his discomfiture ; 'mid wreaths it wore, 
" Still one outflamed the rest — her child's before 
" 'Twas Salinguerra's for his child 2 : scorn, hate, 
" Rage now might startle her when all too late ! 
" Then was the moment ! — rival's foot had spurned 

752. When] Her. 767. infant there] Ecelin. 770. and why 
that rage] what could engage. 776. reads — " Rage, startled 
her from Ecelin, too late I " 



1 The old Church of San Biagio is still to be seen at Vicenza 
(it is now a school) ; it is close to the Porta di Pusterla, the 
northern gate of the city. 

2 This strange vision of Adelaide's may have been suggested 
to Browning by a passage in Pietro Gerardo's Vita de Ezzelino III., 
where he tells us that, wishing to know the destiny of her family, 
Adelaide betook herself to astronomy, and found that the stars 
threatened dire disaster to her children. " Ma volendo sapere 
quale havesse ad essere il fin loro, dottissima essendo, ricorse 
alia Astrologia, e trovo che le stelle molto minacciavano alia sua 
progenie : per il che mai piu non fu veduta ridere." — Gerardo, 
Lib. i. p. 9. 



SORDELLO 253 

" Never that House to earth else ! Sense returned — Book V 

" The act conceived, adventured and complete, 

" They bore away to an obscure retreat 780 The 

'" Mother and child — Retrude's self not slain " flight 

(Nor even here Taurello moved) " though pain 

" Was fled ; and what assured them most 'twas fled, 

" All pain, was, if they raised the pale hushed head 

" 'Twould turn this way and that, waver awhile. 

" And only settle into its old smile — 

" (Graceful as the disquieted water-flag 

" Steadying itself, remarked they, in the quag 

" On either side their path) — when suffered look 

" Down on her child. They marched : no sign once 790 

shook 
" The company's close litter of crossed spears 
" Till, as they reached Goito, a few tears , 

" Slipped in the sunset from her long black lash, death ° S 

" And she was gone. So far the action rash ; and 

" No crime. They laid Retrude in the font, burial 

" Taurello's very gift, her child was wont 
" To sit beneath — constant as eve he came 
" To sit by its attendant girls the same 
" As one of them. For Palma, she would blend 
" With this magnific spirit to the end, 800 

" That ruled her first ; but scarcely has she dared 
" To disobey the Adelaide who scared Why 

" Her into vowing never to disclose Palma 

" A secret to her husband which so froze fjff*„ 

" His blood at half-recital, she contrived 
" To hide from him Taurello's infant lived, 
" Lest, by revealing that, himself should mar 
" Romano's fortunes. And, a crime so far, 
" Palma received that action : she was told 
" Of Salinguerra's nature, of his cold 810 

" Calm acquiescence in his lot ! But free 
" To impart the secret to Romano, she 
" Engaged to repossess Sordello of 
" His heritage, and hers, and that way doff 
" The mask, but after years, long years : while now, 
" Was not Romano's sign-mark on that brow ? " 
Across Taurello's heart his arms were locked : 

780. bore] stole. 790. on her child] downward, sign] insert 
" of life." 



silence 



254 SORDELLO 

Book V And when he did speak 'twas as if he mocked 
Taurello The minstrel, " who had not to move," he said, 
and his " Nor stir — should fate defraud him of a shred 820 

son " Of his son's infancy ? much less his youth ! " 
(Laughingly all this) — " which to aid, in truth, 
" Himself, reserved on purpose, had not grown 
" Old, not too old — 'twas best they kept alone 
" Till now, and never idly met till now ; " 
— Then, in the same breath, told Sordello how 
All intimations of this eve's ever 
Were lies, for Friedrich must advance to Trent, 
New Thence to Verona, then to Rome, there stop, 
schemes Tumble the Church down, institute a-top 830 

once The M P S a Prefecture of Lombardy : 

— " That's now ! — no prophesying what may be 
" Anon, with a new monarch of the clime, 
" Native of Gesi, passing his youth's prime 
" At Naples. 1 Tito bids my choice decide 
" On whom . . ." 

" Embrace him, madam ! " Palma cried, 
Who through the laugh saw sweat-drops burst apace, 
And his lips blanching : he did not embrace 
Swears Sordello, but he laid Sordeho's hand 

fealty to On his own eyes, mouth, forehead. 2 

Sordell ° Understand, 840 

This while Sordello was becoming flushed 
Out of his whiteness ; thoughts rushed, fancies rushed ; 
He pressed his hand upon his head and signed 
Both should forbear him. " Nay, the best's behind ! " 
Taurello laughed — not quite with the same laugh : 
" The truth is, thus we scatter, ay, like chaff 
" These Guelfs, a despicable monk recoils 
" From : nor expect a fickle Kaiser spoils 
" Our triumph ! — Friedrich ? Think you, I intend 
" Friedrich shall reap the fruits of blood I spend 850 
" And brain I waste ? Think you, the people clap 
" Their hands at my out-hewing this wild gap 

824. best they kept] better keep. 828. lies] futile, must] 
means. 833. with a new] beneath a. 846. we] you. 847. 
These] The. 

1 Frederick II. 

8 He swears fealty to his son, and so gets that shadow of a 
name to fight under which he has been seeking. 



SORDELLO 255 

" For any Friedrich to fill up ? 'Tis mine — Book V 

" That's yours : I tell you, towards some such design 

" Have I worked blindly, yes, and idly, yes, 

"And for another, yes— but worked no less 

" With instinct at my heart ; I else had swerved, 

" While now — look round ! My cunning has preserved 

" Samminiato — that's a central place 

" Secures us Florence, boy, — in Pisa's case. 860 

" By land as she by sea ; with Pisa ours, 

" And Florence, and Pistoia, one devours 

" The land at leisure ! Gloriously dispersed — 

" Brescia, observe, Milan, Piacenza first 

" That flanked us (ah, you know not !) in the March ; 

" On these we pile, as keystone of our arch, 

" Romagna and Bologna, whose first span 

" Covered the Trentine arid the Valsugan ; 

" Sofia's Egna by Bolgiano's sure ! " . . . 

So he proceeded : half of all this, pure 870 

Delusion, doubtless, nor the rest too true, 

But what was undone he felt sure to do, More 

As ring by ring he wrung off, flung away schemes 

The pauldron-rings to give his sword-arm play — ■ 

Need of the sword now ! That would soon adjust 

Aught wrong at present ; to the sword intrust 

Sordello's whiteness, undersize : 'twas plain 

He hardly rendered right to his own brain — 

Like a brave hound, men educate to pride 

Himself on speed or scent nor aught beside, 880 

As though he could not, gift by gift, match men ! 

Palma had listened patiently : but when 

'Twas time expostulate, attempt withdraw 

Taurello from his child, she, without awe 

Took off his iron arms from, one by one, 

Sordello's shrinking shoulders, and, that done, 

Made him avert his visage and relieve 

Sordello (you might see his corslet heave 

The while) who, loose, rose — tried to speak, then sank : 

They left him in the chamber. All was blank. 890 

And even reeling down the narrow stair 

Taurello kept up, as though unaware 

Palma was by to guide him, the old device 

— Something of Milan — " how we muster thrice 

" The Torriani's strength there ; all along 



256 SORDELLO 

Book V " Our own Visconti cowed them " — thus the song 
Palma Continued even while she bade him stoop, 
and Thrid somehow, by some glimpse of arrow-loop, 

TaureUo jjjg turnings to the gallery below, 

chamber Wh ere ne stopped short as Palma let him go. 900 

When he had sat in silence long enough 
Splintering the stone bench, braving a rebuff 
She stopped the truncheon ; only to commence 
One of Sordello's poems, a pretence 
For speaking, some poor rhyme of " Elys' hair 
" And head that's sharp and perfect like a pear, 
" So smooth and close are laid the few fine locks 
" Stained like pale honey oozed from topmost rocks 
" Sun-blanched the livelong summer " — from his worst 
Performance, the Goito, as his first : 910 

And that at end, conceiving from the brow 
And open mouth no silence would serve now, 
Went on to say the whole world loved that man 
And, for that matter, thought his face, tho' wan, 
Eclipsed the Count's — he sucking in each phrase 
As if an angel spoke. The foolish praise 
Ended, he drew her on his mailed knees, made 
Her face a framework with his hands, a shade, 
A crown, an aureole : there must she remain 
(Her little mouth compressed with smiling pain 920 

As in his gloves she felt her tresses twitch) 
To get the best look at, in fittest niche 
gallery -Di s P ose n * s saint. That done, he kissed her brow, 
below — " Lauded her father for his treason now," 
He told her, " only, how could one suspect 
" The wit in him ? — whose clansman, recollect, 
" Was ever Salinguerra — she, the same, 
" Romano and his lady — so, might claim 
" To know all, as she should " — and thus begun 
Schemes with a vengeance, schemes on schemes, " not 
one 93a 

" Fit to be told that foolish boy," he said, 
" But only let Sordello Palma wed, 
" —Then ! " 

'Twas a dim long narrow place at best : 
Midway a sole grate showed the fiery West, 
As shows its corpse the world's end some split tomt> — 
A gloom, a rift of fire, another gloom, 



SORDELLO 257 

Faced Palma — but at length Taurello set Book V 

Her free ; the grating held one ragged jet 

Of fierce gold fire : he lifted her within 

The hollow underneath — how else begin 940 

Fate's second marvellous cycle, else renew 

The ages than with Palma plain in view ? 

Then paced the passage, hands clenched, head erect, 

Pursuing his discourse ; a grand unchecked 

Monotony made out from his quick talk 

And the recurring noises of his walk ; 

— Somewhat too much like the o'ercharged assent 

Of two resolved friends in one danger blent, The scene 

Who hearten each the other against heart ; in the 

Boasting there's nought to care for, when, apart 950 ga ery 

The boaster, all's to care for. He, beside 

Some shape not visible, in power and pride 

Approached, out of the dark, ginglingly 1 near, 

Nearer, passed close in the broad light, his ear 

Crimson, eyeballs suffused, temples full-fraught, 

Just a snatch of the rapid speech you caught, 

And on he strode into the opposite dark, 

Till presently the harsh heel's turn, a spark 

I' the stone, and whirl of some loose embossed 

thong 
That crashed against the angle aye so long 960 

After the last, punctual to an amount 
Of mailed great paces you could not but count, — 
Prepared you for the pacing back again. 
And by the snatches you might ascertain 
That, Friedrich's Prefecture surmounted, left 
By this alone in Italy, they cleft 
Asunder, crushed together, at command 
Of none, were free to break up Hildebrand, 
Rebuild, he and Sordello, Charlemagne — 
But garnished, Strength with Knowledge, " if we deign 
" Accept that compromise and stoop to give 971 

" Rome law, the Csesar's Representative." Wild 

Enough, that the illimitable flood phe'ties 

Of triumphs after triumphs, understood 1 
In its faint reflux (you shall hear) sufficed 
Young Ecelin for appanage, enticed , 

1 jingling-ly. Johnson gives the spelling " gingle." 



258 SORDELLO 

Book V Him on till, these long quiet in their graves, 

He found 'twas looked for that a whole life's braves 
Should somehow be made good ; so, weak and worn, 
Must stagger up at Milan, one grey morn 980 

Of the to-come, and fight his latest fight. 
But, Salinguerra's prophecy at height — 
He voluble with a raised arm and stiff, 
A blaring voice, a blazing eye, as if 
He had our very Italy to keep 
Or cast away, or gather in a heap 
To garrison the better — ay, his word 
Was, " run the cucumber into a gourd, 
" Drive Trent upon Apulia " 1 — at their pitch 
Who spied the continents and islands which 990 

Grew mulberry leaves and sickles, in the map — 
(Strange that three such confessions so should hap 
To Palma, 2 Dante spoke with in the clear 
Amorous silence of the Swooning-sphere, — 
Cunizza, as he called her ! Never ask 
Of Palma more ! — She sat, knowing her task 
Was done, the labour of it, — for, success 
Concerned not Palma, passion's votaress.) 
Triumph at height, and thus Sordello crowned — 
Above the passage suddenly a sound 1000 

Stops speech, stops walk : back shrinks Taurello, bids 
The With large involuntary asking lids, 

summons p a i ma interpret. " 'Tis his own foot-stamp— 

" Your hand ! His summons ! Nay, this idle damp 
" Befits not ! " Out they two reeled dizzily. 
" Visconti's strong at Milan," resumed he, 
In the old, somewhat insignificant way — 
(Was Palma wont, years afterward, to say) 
As though the spirit's flight, sustained thus far, 
Dropped at that very instant. 
Envoy Gone they are — 1010 

Palma, Taurello ; Eglamor anon, 
Ecelin, — only Naddo's never gone ! 

977. on] omit. 978. whole] long. 991. mulberry leaves and 
sickles] grew sickles, mulberry leaflets. 999. and thus] I say 
1012. reads " Ecelin, Alberic . . . ah, Naddo's gone ! " 

1 That is join north and south Italy. 

2 Sordello, Adelaide and Taurello. 



SORDELLO 259 

— Labours, this moonrise, what the Master meant : Book V 

" Is Squarcialupo speckled ? ] — purulent, 

" I'd say, but when was Providence put out ? 

" He carries somehow handily about 

" His spite nor fouls himself ! " Goito's vines 

Stand like a cheat detected — stark rough lines, 

The moon breaks through, a grey mean scale against 

The vault where, this eve's Maiden, thou remain'st 1020 

Like some fresh martyr, eyes fixed — who can tell ? 

As Heaven, now all's at end, did not so well, 

Spite of the faith and victory, to leave 

Its virgin quite to death in the lone eve. 

While the persisting hermit-bee ... ha ! wait 

No longer : these in compass, forward fate ! 

1 Naddo, the personification of common-sense ; devoid alike of 
insight or a saving sense of humour, taking everything literally, 
is always with us. Browning may have had many critics of his 
own works in mind. Browningites were very Naddoish in the 
grim seriousness with which they discussed the most trivial 
points in their hero, and made mountains of meaning out of the 
molehills scattered through the acres of Browning's poetry. 
" Speckled," used here as a moral quality tainted or spotted, 
offers a serious problem to such minds. 



BOOK VI 



INTRODUCTION 

The last book opens at the moment when Taurello and 
Palma leave the audience'-chamber after the recognition, 
and Sordello is left alone. It records what passed 
within Sordello while Taurello is pacing the gallery 
below. Both are alike face to face with a supreme 
crisis, but with one it is spiritual, with the other material 
— the attitude of neither of them is intelligible to the 
other — all that is vital to Sordello is ignored by Taurello, 
and vice versa, and yet both are conscious that to this 
point their lives have inevitably been guided, and that 
here is the valley of decision. It is as it were a three- 
fold crisis, but the solution of all alike lies with Sordello : 
it is his decision which will determine the fate not only 
of himself, but also of Taurello and of Palma. 

It is necessary first of all to grasp the full significance 
of Sordello's position and the nature of the temptation 
before him. The one truth which has at last emerged 
from Sordello's soul, the tardy fruit of thought and 
suffering and failure, is the claim of the people. He 
not only feels but knows, that not only by virtue of 
the claims of abstract justice, but by the witness of 
his own supreme abilities, to throw in his lot with the 
people, to fight their battle, is his work: work that 
he can, will, and must do, by virtue of a necessity as it 
were forced upon him, and which he dare not shirk nor 
gainsay. He recognises further that to make such 
work effective he must use some medium to attain his 
end. That medium is the Church, not as it is, but as 
it should be — the Guelf ideal. True, because spiritual 
at its core, however overlaid and vitiated by misuse. 
To this cause he is wedded body and soul, for this he 
has pleaded, and to this he is prepared to dedicate all 
his power. One thing only is needed to set him on his 
path. Power in the sense of position is what he needs. 
Alone and unknown he cannot combat Pope and Em- 

263 



264 SORDELLO 

peror, Guelf and Ghibelline: his fate will be that of 
Crescentius or Rienzi. He has the Will, but means to 
execute it he has none. And now by Taurello's mad 
impulse the one thing he needs is put within his grasp 
— at a price — and that price the sacrifice of all his 
principles. Is he to accept ? 

Sordello, determined to get at the truth of things, 
begins by reviewing his life as a whole. There he sees 
that the real want has been the lack of one great in- 
spiring force (such as others find in beauty, love, or 
intellect), to control his life, concentrate his powers, 
and give definite aim and purpose to his efforts. In 
consequence his life has been frittered and wasted, 
though his efforts have not been wrong so much as 
spasmodic and ill-directed. But the difficulty was to 
find that inspiration. If, as it seems, there was no 
power external to himself great enough to do this, 
was he meant to be a law unto himself ? Was it that 
other natures weaker than his must have their ideals 
embodied, whereas such as he must find the inspira- 
tion of life in the bare formless want ? If so, was he 
wrong in thinking, as he had done, that if Good is mani- 
fest, the Best, though it eludes us ever, must be some- 
where ? Or, to put it in a more practical shape, would 
it be right of him to forego the attempt to aid mankind 
in the whole for the betterment of a weak section only ? 
Within himself Sordello knew that all service was alike, 
and that to confine oneself to some specific task does 
not mean the sacrifice of a larger work if the chance 
comes. But Sordello thought in universals, partly 
because to particularise meant the sacrifice of his world- 
claim, partly because it meant also that " dim, vulgar, 
vast, unobvious work " from which he shrank. Under 
the fascination of his ideal his resolution to help the 
people was fast slipping away when the thought of that 
morning's scene in Ferrara brought his duty back to him. 
Yes, he must help the people. But after all, how littler 
can be done in a single lifetime ! He has hardly time 
to make them grasp a single truth when life is over. 
How many too before him had started in hope to end 
in despair ? Men who, tiring of the struggle or de- 
spairing of success, had flung themselves at last into 
hedonism, turned aside like Tannhauser to the Venus- 



SORDELLO 265 

berg, " grown bestial dreaming how become divine ! " 
What, after all, can the seeker after Truth win ? Look 
at the whole sum of human Truth, what is it ? A few 
sparks and no more. 

But at this point, just as he was persuading himself 
that Truth is not worth seeking, which would have 
rendered his acceptance of Taurello's offer a simple 
matter, he got " a gleam." Because the amount of 
Truth so far discovered by man was but fragmentary, 
he had argued that Truth itself must be at fault. But 
might it not rather be that not Truth, but man's effort 
to find it, his readiness to live on the rare gleams he 
got, was the true cause of his poverty, and that a keener 
pursuit might reveal that buried fire which, once dis- 
covered, would set the whole world right ? 

What would this mean if applied to the practical 
problem ? It meant this. Guelf and Ghibelline alike 
held to opposite fragments of truth, and each mistook 
their fragment for the whole. Sordello alone with his 
world-ideal could bring them into harmony. If, then, 
he forsook the whole to dwell in the parts, he must of 
necessity adopt partial truth with all its limitations 
and inherent wrongfulness. To become a Ghibelline 
or a Guelf meant the acceptance of the party programme. 
It meant partizanship, which spells injustice. Of the 
two, no doubt the Guelfs were the best, but if he threw 
in his lot with them, look what it would mean. A 
good man like Tito must be anathema simply because 
he was a Ghibelline, while a creature like the Legate 
must be cherished though he have no other virtue in 
his composition but the fact that he is a Guelf. No, 
he was right ; he alone grasped human needs in a spirit 
above party. To accept the badge was to prostitute 
his soul, to pander to ignorance and injustice, to betray 
the cause entrusted to him by the people. 

But he did not dash the badge to earth — he followed 
not the gleam. What makes him hesitate ? Two 
thoughts intrude. First — if he held out, what would 
happen ? Would he, by refusal of Taurello's offer, 
help the people ? Could he, by pursuing his ideal un- 
aided, assist them ? In the end, no doubt, yes ; but 
only when he was dead and gone would the true worth 
of what he had upheld be recognized ; and in the 



266 SORDELLO 

meantime ? Then comes the second : the thirst for 
life and power and joy begins to surge within his soul. 
That this is his lower nature he knows, and he weaves 
a web of sophistry, true no doubt, but still sophistical, 
to cloak the surrender that it demands. Is not virtue 
born of vice ? Is not the perception of good due to 
the presence of evil ? Is it not so in nature ? " Where 
the marshes stagnate, crystals branch." " Evil's 
beautified in every shape." Go a step further ; does 
not pure joy pall ; was not Sordello himself unhappy 
at Goito with a world at his feet ? Make the unhappy 
happy and what takes place ; do you not simply put 
him in a larger circle where new unhappiness begins 
afresh ? The joy of the climber is in aspiration, not 
in attainment. Reach the summit and all we gain is 
" leave to look, not leave to do ! " Thus good and 
evil are inextricably mingled ; they are complementary 
one to the other. You cannot do without either ; both 
are necessary. Why, then, should Sordello deny him- 
self the joy of life, even though evil follows. Are not 
both sides necessary to the perfect life ? To hold 
aloof from men, to be a prophet in the wilderness, were 
ultimately no doubt the higher part, but— 

" how 
This badge would suffer me improve my Now ! " 

It has been said that Sordello throughout this book 
argues like a modern, but no modern could think as 
he does in the passage which follows. It is a side of 
Sordello's character hitherto concealed and for which we 
are ill-prepared, but marvellously typical of the age 
in which he lived. That amazing life of the early 
Renaissance, in which piety and inhuman cruelty, art 
and lust, high ideals and brutal conduct, seemed to co- 
exist within the same individual, are here seen pouring 
from the depths of Sordello's soul. Life and power, 
vivid, tangible and unchecked, this is his cry. Life, 
full and beautiful, here and now ; Heaven here and 
not hereafter. But Sordello signs no compact with 
the Devil. The outburst is but momentary and does 
not reflect the real longings of his soul. It is the alter- 
native ; even in the midst of it he repeats his willing- 



SORDELLO 267 

ness to serve freely and with all his heart, so long as 
that service be real. If not— then he claims his hour 
— if not virtue, then vice ; if not good, then evil ! But 
we are not convinced ; Sordello's bitter cry — 

" together let wrath, hatred, lust 
All tyrannies in every shape be thrust 
Upon this Now " — 

is unreal ; it is not Sordello. We feel tempted to apply 
to him the Ghibelline remark made in the square as to 
Azzo — 

" Este makes 
Mirth for the Devil when he undertakes 
To play the Ecelin " — 

and this is what we feel Sordello in a moral sense is 
doing. 

The struggle is drawing to a close. Sordello has 
stood upon the very verge of surrender, but he turns 
away in time. His hold on life is weakening, a new 
dawn is breaking. He clings to life, not now for its 
own sake, but to force the Master Hand to yield its 
secret ; as one who says, " I will not let Thee go except 
Thou bless me." The new light spreads, and with it 
comes the clearer vision ; the garments of Time, sorrow 
and joy, virtue and vice, the larger and the less, slip 
from him. Earth life with all its varying powers and 
values is seen merged in a wider whole unguessed before, 
until at length 

" The poor body soon 
Sinks under what was meant a wondrous boon, 
Leaving its bright accomplice all aghast." 

Sordello dies. The sound of his falling body reaches 
Palma and Taurello in the gallery below; they hasten 
up, to find him, with the badge beneath his foot, life- 
less. At this point the story ends, but before gathering 
up the scattered threads of the story, Browning gives 
us a word of explanation as to Sordello. He failed 
by neglect of the facts of life. He tried to do too much. 
He ignored human limitations and broke beneath the 
strain. Sordello gone, the rest is soon made clear. 



268 SORDELLO 

Salinguerra compromised and peace was made all 
round. A short sketch of subsequent events follows 
from 1224 to 1260, when the house of Romano was 
finally rooted out and became extinct, and the poem 
closes with a faint echo of Sordello's old Goito lay sung 
by a peasant child " on a brown and nameless hill." 
Who would has heard Sordello's story told. 



BOOK THE SIXTH 

The thought of Eglamor's least like a thought, Book VI 

And yet a false one, was, " Man shrinks to nought 

" If matched with symbols of immensity ; 

" Must quail, forsooth, before a quiet sky 

" Or sea, too little for their quietude 1 :" 

And, truly, somewhat in Sordello's mood 

Confirmed its speciousness, while eve slow sank The last 

Down the near terrace to the farther bank, struggle: 

And only one spot left from out the night Sordello 

Glimmered upon the river opposite — 10 alone 

A breadth of watery heaven like a bay, 

A sky-like space of water, ray for ray, 

And star for star, one richness where they mixed 

And this and that wing of an angel, fixed, 

Tumultuary splendours folded in 

To die. Nor turned he till Ferrara's din 

(Say, the monotonous speech from a man's lip 

Who lets some first and eager purpose slip 

In a new fancy's birth — the speech keeps on 

Though elsewhere its informing soul be gone) 20 

— Aroused him, surely offered succour. Fate 

Paused with this eve ; ere she precipitate 

Herself, — best put off new strange thoughts awhile, 

That voice, those large hands, that portentous smile, 2 — 

What help to pierce the future as the past 

7. Eve slow] evening. 9. from out] out of. 23. best . . . 
new strange] put off strange after-thoughts . . . 

1 " Least like a thought " because it lacked all originality and 
was a mere platitude, and " false " because man's greatness lies 
not in his mere physical qualities, but in his self-consciousness 
and all that that implies. 

1 Sordello puts aside the new strange thoughts arising from 
his discovery that Salinguerra is his father, and keeping his 
ideal clear before him looks back over his past life. 

269 



270 SORDELLO 

Book VI Lay in the plaining city ? 

And at last 
The main discovery and prime concern, 
All that just now imported him to learn, 
Truth's self, like yonder slow moon to complete 
Reviews Heaven, rose again, and, naked at his feet, 30 

bis past Lighted his old life's every shift and change, 
1 e Effort with counter-effort ; nor the range 

Of each looked wrong except wherein it checked, 
Some other — which of these could he suspect, 
Prying into them by the sudden blaze ? 
The real way seemed made up of all the ways ] — 
Mood after mood of the one mind in him ; 
Tokens of the existence, bright or dim, 
Of a transcendent all-embracing sense 
Demanding only outward influence, 40 

A soul, in Palma's phrase, above his soul, 
Power to uplift his power, — such moon's control 
Over such sea-depths, — and their mass had swept 
Onward from the beginning and still kept 
Its course : but years and years the sky above 
Held none, and so, untasked of any love, 
His sensitiveness idled, now amort, 
Alive now, and, to sullenness or sport 
Given wholly up, disposed itself anew 
At every passing instigation, grew 50 

And dwindled at caprice, in foam-showers spilt, 
His Wedge-like insisting, quivered now a gilt 
wasted Shield in the sunshine, now a blinding race 
Of whitest ripples o'er the reef — found place 
For much display ; not gathered up and, hurled 
Right from its heart, encompassing the world. 
So had Sordello been, by consequence, 
Without a function : others made pretence 
To strength not half his own, yet had some core 
Within, submitted to some moon, before 60 

Them still, superior still whate'er their force, — 
Were able therefore to fulfil a course, 

29. Truth's self] His truth. 42. such] this. 55. much display] 
myriad charms. 

1 What Sordello is blindly looking for is a higher, synthesis. 
His experience has outgrown his principles and his conclusions 
will no longer cover the facts. 



SORDELLO 271 

Nor missed life's crown, authentic attribute. 1 Book VI 

To each who lives must be a certain fruit Others 

Of having lived in his degree, — a stage, did more 

Earlier or later in men's pilgrimage, t5aan he 

To stop at ; and to this the spirits tend 

Who, still discovering beauty without end, 

Amass the scintillations, make one star 

— Something unlike them, self-sustained, afar, — 70 

And meanwhile nurse the dream of being blest 

By winning it to notice and invest 

Their souls with alien glory, some one day 

Whene'er the nucleus, gathering shape alway, 

Round to the perfect circle — soon or late, 

According as themselves are formed to wait ; 

Whether mere human beauty will suffice 

■ — The yellow hair and the luxurious eyes, Con- 

Or human intellect seem best, or each trolled by 

Combine in some ideal form past reach 80 an 1 ea 

On earth, or else some shade of these, some aim, 

Some love, hate even, 2 take their place, the same, 

So to be served — all this they do not lose, 

Waiting for death to live, nor idly choose 

What must be Hell — a progress thus pursued 

Through all existence, still above the food 

That's offered them, still fain to reach beyond 

The widened range, in virtue of their bond 

Of sovereignty. Not that a Palma's Love, 

A Salinguerra's Hate, would equal prove 90 

To swaying all Sordello : but why doubt 

Some love meet for such strength, some moon without 

Would match his sea ? — or fear, Good manifest, 

Only the Best breaks faith 3 ? — Ah but the Best 

67. to this the] to which those. 69. make] for. 77. mere] 
'tis. 83. So to] That may. 85. must be Hell] Hell shall be. 
87. fain to reach] towering. 91. but why] wherefore. 92. Some] 
omitted; moon] moon's. 93. Would] to. 

1 It is easier to describe Sordello by what he was not, or by 
what he might have been, than to say what exactly he was. 
With Browning definite character, made by definite deeds, good 
or even bad, is the crown of life. 

2 Palma exemplifies the former, Salinguerra the latter. 

3 I.e. Why doubt that there must be some love meet for such 
strength as Sordello's, some moon to match his sea, or why fear 



272 SORDELLO 

Book VI Somehow eludes us ever, still might be 

And is not ! Crave we gems ? No penury 

Of their material round us ! Pliant earth 

And plastic flame — what balks the mage his birth 

— Jacinth in balls or lodestone by the block ? 

Flinders enrich the strand, veins swell the rock ; ioo 

Nought more ! Seek creatures ? Life's i' the tempest, 

thought 
Clothes the keen hill-top, mid-day woods are fraught 
Nature's With fervours : human forms are well enough ! 
wealth B u t we had hoped, encouraged by the stuff 
human Profuse at nature's pleasure, men beyond 
perfec- These actual men ! — and thus are over-fond 
tion In arguing, from Good — the Best, from force 
Divided — force combined, an ocean's course 
From this our sea whose mere intestine pants 
Might seem at times sufficient to our wants. 1 no 

External power ! If none be adequate, 
And he stand forth ordained (a prouder fate) 
Himself a law to his own sphere ? " Remove 
" All incompleteness ! " for that law, that love ? 
Nay, if all other laws be feints, — truth veiled 
Helpfully to weak vision that had failed 
To grasp aught but its special want, — for lure, 
Embodied ? Stronger vision could endure 
The unbodied want : no part — the whole of truth ! 
The People were himself ; nor, by the ruth 2 120 

96. we : No] you : Where's. 100. veins swell] and veins. 
101. Nought: Seek] No: Ask. 103. human] ah these. 106. 
actual] omitted — perchance inserted after thus. no. Might 
seem] Had seemed. 112. stand forth] had been. 

that when good is manifest (in the case of ordinary man) the 
best alone (for which Sordello craved) will break faith ? 

1 Was not Sordello right in arguing from the lavish wealth 
and perfection of nature that the super-man was to be found ? 
Could he not fairly deduce from the actual presence of good the 
existence of the Best ? Yes, says Browning, but not on earth ! 

2 Lines 117-120 have been re-written; 1st edition reads — 

" A law to his own sphere ? The need remove 
All incompleteness be that law, that love ? 
Nay, really such be other's laws, though veiled 
In mercy to each vision that had failed 
If unassisted by its want for lure. 
Embodied ? Stranger vision could endure 
The simple want — no bauble for a truth." 



SORDELLO 273 

At their condition, was he less impelled Book VI 

To alter the discrepancy beheld, 

Than if, from the sound whole, a sickly part 

Subtracted were transformed, decked out with art, 

Then palmed on him as alien woe — the Guelf 

To succour, proud that he forsook himself. 

All is himself ; all service, therefore, rates 

Alike, nor serving one part, immolates 

The rest : but all in time ! " That lance of yours 

" Makes havoc soon with Malek and his Moors, 130 

" That buckler's lined with many a giant's beard 

" Ere long, our champion, be the lance upreared, Work, not 

" The buckler wielded handsomely as now ! dreams, 

" But view your escort, bear in mind your vow, 

" Count the pale tracts of sand to pass ere that, 

" And, if you hope we struggle through the flat, 

" Put lance and buckler by ! Next half-month lacks 

" Mere sturdy exercise of mace and axe 

" To cleave this dismal brake of prickly-pear 

" Which bristling holds Cydippe by the hair, 140 

" Lames barefoot Agathon : this felled, we'll try 

" The picturesque achievements by and by — 

" Next life 1 1 " 

Ay, rally, mock, O People, urge 
Your claims ! — for thus he ventured, to the verge, 
Push a vain mummery which perchance distrust 
Of his fast-slipping resolution thrust 
Likewise 2 : accordingly the Crowd — (as yet 
He had unconsciously contrived forget 
I' the whole, to dwell o' the points . . . one might assuage 

127. All is himself] No : All's himself. 132. our champion] 
Porphyrio. 138. Mere] A. 141-3] omitted from " this felled " 
to "mock." 147. Likewise] No less. 149. 1' the whole] omitted. 

1 Is not Sordello's instinct true when he insists that he can 
help the world just as much in his claim to raise all people as if 
he narrows it down and lends his mind to the assistance of a 
mere party ideal ? Yes, but it must be real service — hard spade- 
work, not titanic dream-victories. There is no allusion in the 
names here, they are just imaginative creations of Browning's. 

8 " The vain mummery " is the old delusion that the triumphs 
won in imagination, " Malek and his Moors " to wit, are equivalent 
to real victories. The practical difficulties of his task tend to 
bring back the old self-consolation of what he could do if he 
tried, as evidenced by his wondrous feats in imagination. 



274 



SORDELLO 



Book VI The signal horrors easier than engage 150 

With a dim vulgar vast unobvious grief 
Not to be fancied off, nor gained relief 
In brilliant fits, cured by a happy quirk, 
But by dim vulgar vast unobvious work 
To correspond . . .) this Crowd then, forth they stood. 
The call " And now content thy stronger vision, brood 

of reality « 0n thy bare want ; uncovered, turf by turf, 

" Study the corpse-face thro' the taint-worms' scurf 1 ! " 

Down sank the People's Then ; uprose their Now. 
These sad ones render service to ! And how 160 

Piteously little must that service prove 
— Had surely proved in any case ! for, move 
Each other obstacle away, let youth 
Become aware it had surprised a truth 
'Twere service to impart — can truth be seized, 
Settled forthwith, and, of the captive eased, 
Its captor find fresh prey, since this alit 
So happily, no gesture luring it, 
The earnest of a flock to follow ? Vain, 
Most vain ! a life to spend ere this he chain 170 

To the poor crowd's complacence : ere the crowd 
Pronounce it captured, he descries a cloud 
Its kin of twice the plume ; which he, in turn, 
If he shall live as many lives, may learn 
How to secure : not else. Then Mantua called 
Back to his mind how certain bards were thralled 
— Buds blasted, but of breath more like perfume 
Than Naddo's staring nosegay's carrion bloom ; 
Some insane rose that burnt heart out in sweets, 
A spendthrift in the spring, no summer greets ; 180 

Some Dularete, 2 drunk with truths and wine, 

150. easier] sooner. 152. nor gained] obtain. 155. this crowd 
then] however. 157. uncovered] the grave stript. 167. find 
fresh prey] look around. 173. the plume] plumage : " which " 
omitted. 179. Some insane] Could boast — some rose. 

1 That is, face the grim realities of life. 

8 This name occurs in Verci, where, in recounting a story of an. 
outrage by Ecelin upon a certain Bianca de Rossi, who is said 
to have killed herself upon her husband's tomb rather than sur- 
vive Ecelin's brutality, he says that " il conte Carlo Dottori sotto 
le nome di Eleuterio Dularete scrisse un dramma tragico sopra 
Bianca." 



SORDELLO 275 

Grown bestial, dreaming how become divine. ' Book VI 

Yet to surmount this obstacle, commence 

With the commencement, merits crowning ! Hence is truth 

Must truth be casual truth, elicited worth 

In sparks so mean, at intervals dispread seeking ? 

So rarely, that 'tis like at no one time 

Of the world's story has not truth, the prime 

Of truth, the very truth which, loosed, had hurled 

The world's course right, been really in the world 190 

— Content the while with some mean spark by dint 

Of some chance-blow, the solitary hint 

Of buried fire, which, rip earth's breast, would stream 

Sky-ward ! 

Sordello's miserable gleam * 
Was looked for at the moment : he would dash 
This badge, and all it brought, to earth, — abash 
Taurello thus, perhaps persuade him wrest 
The Kaiser from his purpose, — would attest 
His own belief, in any case. Before 
He dashes it however, think once more ! 200 

For, were that little, truly service ? " Ay, 
" I' the end no doubt ; but meantime ? Plain you spy 
" Its ultimate effect, but many flaws 
" Of vision blur each intervening cause. 
" Were the day's fraction clear as the life's sum 
" Of service, Now as filled as teems To-come 
" With evidence of good — nor too minute Is par- 

" A share to vie with evil ! No dispute, tisan- 

*' 'Twere fitliest maintain the Guelfs in rule : ^P£ u ? 

" That makes your life's work : but you have to school ' 
" Your day's work on these natures circumstanced 211 
" Thus variously, which yet, as each advanced 
" Or might impede the Guelf rule, must be moved 

190. The worlds] Its course aright. 193. earth's] its. 199. 
His own belief] Constancy. 206. teems] the . . . 208. No] 
How. 

1 The gleam lay in the thought that perhaps the scarcity of 
truth, which hardly makes pursuit of it worth while, is due not so 
much to the fact that it is not there to find, as to the weakness 
of man's effort to discover it. If truth were not worth the 
seeking then Sordello could accept the badge and yield his 
principles, if on the other hand the fault lay in his own feeble 
efforts to find it to throw up his principles were despicable. 



service ? 



276 SORDELLO 

Book VI " Now, for the Then's sake, — hating what you loved, 
" Loving old hatreds ! Nor if one man bore 
" Brand upon temples while his fellow wore 
" The aureole, would it task you to decide : 
" But, portioned duly out, the future vied 
" Never with the unparcelled present ! Smite 
" Or spare so much on warrant all so slight ? 220 

" The present's complete sympathies to break, 
" Aversions bear with, for a future's sake 
" So feeble ? Tito ruined through one speck, 
" The Legate saved by his sole lightish fleck ? 
" This were work, true, but work performed at cost 
" Of other work ; aught gained here, elsewhere lost. 
" For a new segment spoil an orb half-done ? 
" Rise with the People one step, and sink — one ? 
" Were it but one step, less than the whole face 
" Of things, your novel duty bids erase ! 230 

" Harms to abolish ! What, the prophet saith, 
" The minstrel singeth vainly then ? Old faith, 
" Old courage, only born because of harms, 
" Were not, from highest to the lowest, charms ? 
" Flame may persist ; but is not glare as staunch ? 
" Where the salt marshes stagnate, crystals branch ; 
" Blood dries to crimson ; Evil's beautified 
" In every shape. Thrust Beauty then aside 
" And banish evil ! Wherefore ? After all, 

Is not evil " Is Evil a result less natural 240 

neces- " Than Good ? For overlook the season's strife 
sary ? « with tree and flower, — the hideous animal life, 
" (Of which who seeks shall find a grinning taunt 
" For his solution, and endure the vaunt 
" Of nature's angel, as a child that knows 
" Himself befooled, unable to propose 
" Aught better than the fooling) — and but care 
" For men, for the mere People then and there, — 
" In these, could you but see that Good and 111 
" Claimed you alike ! Whence rose their claim but still 
" From 111, as fruit of 111 ? What else could knit 251 
" You theirs but sorrow ? Any free from it 

229. Were] Would. 231. to abolish] are to vanquish. 233. 
only . . . harms] born of the surrounding harms. 244. and] must. 
248. the mere] the varied. 249. In . . . that] Of which 'tis easy 
saying. 251. the as] the. 



SORDELLO 277 

" Were also free from you ! Whose happiness Book v: 

" Could be distinguished in this morning's press 
" Of miseries ? — the fool's who passed a gibe 
' On thee,' jeered he, ' so wedded to thy tribe, 
Thou earnest green and yellow tokens in 
" ' Thy very face that thou art Ghibellin ! ' 
" Much hold on you that fool obtained ! Nay mount 
" Yet higher — and upon men's own account 260 

" Must Evil stay : for, what is joy ?— to heave Coxx ^ 

" Up one obstruction more, and common leave |°° st 

" What was peculiar, by such act destroy without 

" Itself ; a partial death is every joy ; evil ? 

" The sensible escape, enfranchisement 
" Of a sphere's essence : once the vexed — content, 
" The cramped — at large, the growing circle — round, 
" All's to begin again — some novel bound 
" To break, some new enlargement to entreat ; 
" The sphere though larger is not more complete. 1 270 
" Now for Mankind's experience : who alone 
" Might style the unobstructed world his own ? 
" Whom palled Goito with its perfect things ? 
" Sordello's self : whereas for Mankind springs 
" Salvation by each hindrance interposed. 
" They climb ; life's view is not at once disclosed 
" To creatures caught up, on the summit left, 
" Heaven plain above them, yet of wings berefit : 
" But lower laid, as at the mountain's foot. 
" So, range on range, the girdling forests shoot 280 

" 'Twixt your plain prospect and the throngs who scale 
" Height after height, and pierce mists, veil by veil, 

256. thee] one. 275. by each] omitted : read " hindrances." 
276. life's . . . not] not all life's view. 277. caught up] sudden. 
278. Heaven plain] With heaven. 281. Twixt . . . plain] Be- 
tween the. 282 reads : Earnestly even piercing veil by veil. 

1 Sordello's argument, framed to justify his desire to accept 
Taurello's offer, is that Good only exists through the presence 
of Evil: that 'Yes" is conceivable only because we conceive 
" No." Pure truth with no falsehood we could not distinguish 
from pure falsehood with no truth. It is as little possible to see 
in absolute unlimited light as in absolute unlimited darkness : 
vision is only possible when one is tempered by the other. It is 
Hegel's doctrine of the implication of opposites. (See Art. on 
Browning's Philosophy by J. B. Bury in Browning Soc. Papers). 



278 SORDELLO 

Book VI " Heartened with each discovery ; in their soul, 

"The Whole they seek by Parts— but, found that 
Whole, 
Joy is " Could they revert, enjoy past gains ? The space 

maspira- " Of time you judge so meagre to embrace 

on " The Parts were more than plenty, once attained 
" The Whole, to quite exhaust it : nought were gained 
" But leave to look — not leave to do : Beneath 
" Soon sates the looker — look Above, and Death 290 
" Tempts ere a tithe of Life be tasted. Live 
" First, and die soon enough, Sordello ! Give 
" Body and spirit the first right they claim, 
" And pasture soul on a voluptuous shame 
" That you, a pageant-city's denizen, 
" Are neither vilely lodged midst Lombard men — 
" Can force joy out of sorrow, seem to truck 
" Bright attributes away for sordid muck, 
" Yet manage from that very muck educe 
" Gold ; then subject, nor scruple, to your cruce 300 
" The world's discardings ! Though real ingots pay 
" Your pains, the clods that yielded them are clay 
" To all beside, — would clay remain, though quenched 
" Your purging-fire ; who's robbed then ? Had you 

wrenched 
" An ampler treasure forth ! — As 'tis, they crave 
" A share that ruins you and will not save 
" Them. Why should sympathy command you quit 
" That course that makes your joy, nor will remit 
" Their woe ? Would all arrive at joy ? Reverse 
" The order (time instructs you) nor coerce 310 

" Each unit till, some predetermined mode, 
" The total be emancipate ; men's road 
" Is one, men's times of travel many ; thwart 
" No enterprising soul's precocious start 
" Before the general march ! If slow or fast 
" All straggle up to the same point at last, 
" Why grudge your having gained, a month ago, 
" The brakes at balm-shed, asphodels in blow, 

283. Heartened] Confirmed. 285. enjoy past gains] O testify ! 
293. first] bare. 294. soul] thee. 298. Bright] Thine. 30L 
Though real] Think if . . . 303. beside] save thee. 305. 
ample] ampler. 307 reads : Yourselves : imperiously command 
I quit. 312. men's] our. 



SORDELLO 279 

' ' While they were landlocked ? Speed their Then , but how Book VI 
" This badge would suffer you improve your Now ! " 320 

His time of action for, against, or with 
Our world (I labour to extract the pith 
Of this his problem) grew, that even-tide 
Gigantic with its power of joy, beside 
The world's eternity of impotence 
To profit though at his whole joy's expense. 
" Making nothing of my day because so brief ? 
" Rather make more : instead of joy, use grief 
" Before its novelty have time subside ! 
" Wait not for the late savour, leave untried 330 

" Virtue, the creaming honey-wine, quick squeeze 
" Vice like a biting spirit from the lees 

" Of life ! Together let wrath, hatred, lust, The lust 

" All tyrannies in every shape, be thrust flesh 

*' Upon this Now, which time may reason out calleth 

" As mischiefs, far from benefits, no doubt ; 
"' But long ere then Sordello will have slipt 
" Away ; you teach bim at Goito's crypt, 
" There's a blank issue to that fiery thrill. 
" Stirring; the few cope with the many, still : 340 

" So much of sand as, quiet, makes a mass 
" Unable to produce three tufts of grass, 
" Shall, troubled by the whirlwind, render void 
" The whole calm glebe's endeavour : be employed ! 
" And e'en though somewhat smart the Crowd for this, 
" Contribute each his pang to make your bliss. 
" 'Tis but one pang — one blood-drop to the bowl 
" Which brimful tempts the sluggish asp uncowl 
" At last, stains ruddily the dull red cape, 
" And, kindling orbs grey as the unripe grape 350 

" Before, avails forthwith to disentrance 
" The portent, soon to lead a mystic dance 
" Among you ! For, who sits alone in Rome ? 
" Have those great hands indeed hewn out a home, 
" And set me there to live ? Oh life, life-breath, 
" Life-blood, — ere sleep, come travail, life ere death ! 

323. his problem] and more. 328. use] take . . . 330. Wait 
not] No time. 341. sand] dust. 346. your] up. 349. At last] 
So quick. 350. grey] dull. 356. Compare the reverse. — 
Spenser. 352. The portent] The mischief. 355. And . . , 
live] For me — compelled to live. 3^6. come] be. 



280 



SORDELLO 



The pride 

of life 



Book VI " This life stream on my soul, direct, oblique, 

But always streaming ! Hindrances ? They pique : 

Helps ? such . . . but why repeat, my soul o'ertops 

Each height, then every depth profoundlier drops ? 360 

Enough that I can live, and would live ! Wait 

For some transcendent life reserved by Fate 

To follow this ? Oh, never ! Fate, I trust 

The same, my soul to ; for, as who flings dust, 

Perchance (so facile was the deed) she chequed 

The void with these materials to affect 

My soul diversely : these consigned anew 

To nought by death, what marvel if she threw 

A second and superber spectacle 

Before me ? What may serve for sun, what still 370 

Wander a moon above me ? What else wind 

About me like the pleasures left behind, 

And how shall some new flesh that is not flesh 

Cling to me ? What's new laughter ? Soothes the fresh 

Sleep like sleep ? Fate's exhaustless for my sake 

In brave resource : but whether bids she slake 

My thirst at this first rivulet, or count 

No draught worth lip save from some rocky fount 

Above i' the clouds, while here she's provident 

Of pure loquacious pearl, the soft tree-tent 380 

Guards, with its face of reate and sedge, nor fail 

The silver globules and gold-sparkling grail 

At bottom ? Oh, 'twere too absurd to slight 

For the hereafter the to-day's delight ! 

Quench thirst at this, then seek next well-spring : wear 

Home-lilies ere strange lutos in my hair ! 

Here is the Crowd, whom I with freest heart 

Offer to serve, contented for my part 

To give life up in service, — only grant 

That I do serve ; if otherwise, why want 390 

Aught further of me ? If men cannot choose 

But set aside life, why should I refuse 

The gift ? I take it — I, for one, engage 

Never to falter through my pilgrimage — 

Nor end it howling that the stock or stone 

Were enviable, truly : I, for one, 

357. stream on] to feed. 360. Each] All; then] than; pro- 
foundlier] profounder. 380. pure] (taste). 389. in service] 
once for all. 390. That I do] I really. 



The lust 

of the 

eyes 



SORDELLO 281 

" Will praise the world, you style mere anteroom Book VI 

" To palace — be it so ! shall I assume 

" — My foot the courtly gait, my tongue the trope, 

" My mouth the smirk, before the doors fly ope 400 

" One moment ? What ? with guarders row on row, 

" Gay swarms of varletry that come and go, 

" Pages to dice with, waiting-girls unlace 

" The plackets of, pert claimants help displace, 

" Heart-heavy suitors get a rank for, — laugh 

" At yon sleek parasite, break his own staff 

" 'Cross Beetle-brows the Usher's shoulder, — why 

" Admitted to the presence by and by, 

" Should thought of having lost these make me grieve 

" Among new joys I reach, for joys I leave ? 410 

" Cool citrine-crystals, fierce pyropus-stone, 

" Are floor-work there ! But do I let alone 

" That black-eyed peasant in the vestibule 

" Once and for ever ? — Floor-work ? No such fool ! Here not 

" Rather, were heaven to forestall earth, I'd say b ^ e ' 

" I, is it, must be blest ? Then, my own way 

" Bless me ! Give firmer arm and fleeter foot, 

" I'll thank you : but to no mad wings transmute 

" These limbs of mine — our greensward was so soft ! 

" Nor camp I on the thunder-cloud aloft : 420 

" We feel the bliss distinctlier, having thus 

" Engines subservient, not mixed up with us. 

" Better move palpably through heaven : nor, freed 

" Of flesh, forsooth, from space to space proceed 

" 'Mid flying synods of worlds ! No : in heaven's marge 

" Show Titan still, recumbent o'er his targe 

" Solid with stars — the Centaur at his game, 

" Made tremulously out in hoary flame ! 

" Life ! Yet the very cup whose extreme dull 

'•' Dregs, even, I would quaff, was dashed, at full, 430 

" Aside so oft ; the death I fly, revealed 

" So oft a better life this life concealed, 

" And which sage, champion, martyr, through each path 

" Have hunted fearlessly — the horrid bath, 

" The crippling-irons and the fiery chair. 

398. To . . . so] To the true palace, but. 400. My mouth 
the smirk] My eye the glance. 409. having lost these] these 
recurring. 410. joys] sights, 412. Are floor work there] Bare 
floorwork, too ! 416. I, it is, etc.] Must I be blessed or you ? 



282 SORDELLO 

Book VI " 'Twas well for them ; let me become aware 
" As they, and I relinquish life, too ! Let 
" What masters life disclose itself ! Forget 
" Vain ordinances, I have one appeal — 
" I feel, am what I feel, know what I feel ; 440 

" So much is truth to me. What Is, then ? Since 
" One object, viewed diversely, may evince 
" Beauty and ugliness — this way attract, 
" That way repel, — why gloze upon the fact ? 
" Why must a single of the sides be right ? 
" What bids choose this and leave the opposite ? 
" Where's abstract Right for me ? — in youth endued 
" With Right still present, still to be pursued, 
" Thro' all the interchange of circles, rife 
" Each with its proper law and mode of life, 450 

" Each to be dwelt at ease in : where, to sway 
" Absolute with the Kaiser, or obey 
" Implicit with his serf of fluttering heart, 
" Or, like a sudden thought of God's, to start 
" Up, Brutus in the presence, then go shout 
" That some should pick the unstrung jewels out — 
" Each, well ! " 

And, as in moments when the past 
Gave partially enfranchisement, he cast 
Himself quite through mere secondary states 
Of his soul's essence, little loves and hates, 460 

Into the mid deep yearnings overlaid 
By these ; as who should pierce hill, plain, grove, glade, 
And on into the very nucleus probe 
That first determined there exist a globe. 
The As that were easiest, half the globe dissolved, 
? e ?]}" So seemed Sordello's closing- truth evolved 

break up ^ v n * s flesh-half's break-up ; the sudden swell 
Of his expanding soul showed 111 and Well, 
Sorrow and Joy, Beauty and Ugliness, 
Virtue and Vice, the Larger and the Less, 470 

All qualities, in fine, recorded here, 
Might be but modes of Time and this one sphere, 
Urgent on these, but not of force to bind 

438. What masters life] Life's secret but . . . 447. Where's] 
No. 451. where] thus. 452. Absolute] Regally. 455. Brutus] 
omitted : insert " forth and " after " go," 461. deep] vague. 



SORDELLO 283 

Eternity, as Time — as Matter — Mind, Book vr 

If Mind, Eternity, should choose assert 

Their attributes within a Life : thus girt 

With circumstance, next change beholds them cinct 

Quite otherwise — with Good and 111 distinct, 

Joys, sorrows,, tending to a like result — 

Contrived to render easy, difficult, 480 

This or the other course of . . . what new bond 

In place of flesh may stop their flight beyond 

Its new sphere, as that course does harm or good 

To its arrangements. Once this understood, 

As suddenly he felt himself alone, 

Quite out of Time and this world : all was known. 

What made the secret of his past despair ? 

— Most imminent when he seemed most aware 

Of his own self-sufficiency : made mad 

By craving to expand the power he had, 490 He has 

And not new power to be expanded ? — just tried too 

This made it ; Soul on Matter being thrust, much 

Joy comes when so much Soul is wreaked in Time 

On Matter : let the Soul's attempt sublime 

Matter beyond the scheme and so prevent 

By more or less that deed's accomplishment, 

And Sorrow follows : Sorrow how avoid ? 

Let the employer match the thing employed, 

Fit to the finite his infinity, 

And thus proceed for ever, in degree 500 

Charged but in kind the same, still limited 

To the appointed circumstance and dead 

To all beyond. A sphere is but a sphere ; 

Small, Great, are merely terms we bandy here ; 

Since to the spirit's absoluteness all 

Are like. Now, of the present sphere we call 

Life, are conditions ; take but this among 

Many ; the body was to be so long 

Youthful, no longer : but, since no control 

Tied to that body's purposes his soul, 510 

She chose to understand the body's trade 

More than the body's self — had fain conveyed 

Her boundless to the body's bounded lot. 

474. Eternity is Time] As Time — Eternity. 489. reads — " Of 
greatness in the Past — nought turned him mad like . . . 495. 
the] its. 497. how] to. 511. She] It : so throughout. 



284 SORDELLO 

Book VI Hence, the soul permanent, the body not, — 
Neglected Scarcely its minute for enjoying here, — 
life's con- The soul must needs instruct her weak compeer, 
ditions R un ' er ft s capabilities and wring 

A joy thence, she held worth experiencing : 

Which, far from half discovered even, — lo, 

The minute gone, the body's power let go 520 

Apportioned to that joy's acquirement ! Broke 

Morning o'er earth, he yearned for all it woke — 

From the volcano's vapour-flag, winds hoist 

Black o'er the spread of sea,— -down to the moist 

Dale's silken barley-spikes sullied with rain, 

Swayed earthwards, heavily to rise again — 

The Small, a sphere as perfect as the Great 

To the soul's absoluteness. Meditate 

Too long on such a morning's cluster-chord 

And the whole music it was framed afford, — 530 

The chord's might half discovered, what should pluck 

One string, his finger, was found palsy-struck. 

And then no marvel if the spirit, shown 

A saddest sight — the body lost alone 

Through her officious proffered help, deprived 

Of this and that enjoyment Fate contrived, — 

Virtue, Good, Beauty, each allowed slip hence, — 

Vain-gloriously were fain, for recompense, 

To stem the ruin even yet, protract 

The body's term, supply the power it lacked 540 

From her infinity, compel it learn 

These qualities were only Time's concern, 

and dies And body may, with spirit helping, barred — 

Advance the same, vanquished — obtain reward, 

Reap joy where sorrow was intended grow, 

Of Wrong made Right, and turn 111 Good below. 

And the result is, the poor body soon 

Sinks under what was meant a wondrous boon, 

Leaving its bright accomplice all aghast. 

So much was plain then, proper in the past ; 550 

To be complete for, satisfy the whole 
Series of spheres — Eternity, his soul 

522. he yearned] omitted : " say " before morning, and before 
for. 523. winds] to. 524. down] omitted. 529. Too long] 
omitted. Autumn-morning. 531. half] omitted. 533. no] what. 
543. spirit helping] its assistance. 



SORDELLO 285 

Needs must exceed, prove incomplete for, each Book VI 

Single sphere — Time. Bat does our knowledge reach 
No farther ? Is the cloud of hindrance broke 
But by the failing of the fleshly yoke, 
Its loves and hates, as now when death lets soar 
Sordello, self-sufficient as before, 
Though during the mere space that shall elapse 
'Twixt his enthralment in new bonds perhaps ? 560 

Must life be ever just escaped, which should 
Have been enjoyed ? — nay, might have been and would, 
Each purpose ordered right — the soul's no whit 
Beyond the body's purpose under it. 
Like yonder breadth of watery heaven, a bay, 
And that sky-space of water, ray for ray 
And star for star, one richness where they mixed 
And this and that wing of an angel, fixed, 
Tumultuary splendours folded in 

To die — would soul, proportioned thus, begin 570 How 

Exciting discontent, or surelier quell yt^V 

The body if, aspiring, it rebel ? " ■ 

But how so order life ? Still brutalize 
The soul, the sad world's way, with muffled eyes 
To all that was before, all that shall be 
After this sphere — all and each quality 
Save some sole and immutable Great, Good 
And Beauteous whither fate has loosed its hood 
To follow ? Never may some soul see All 
— The Great Before and After, and the Small 580 

Now, yet be saved by this the simplest lore, 
And take the single course prescribed before, 
As the king-bird with ages on his plumes 
Travels to die in his ancestral glooms ? 
But where descry the Love that shall select 
That course ? Here is a soul whom, to affect, 
Nature has plied with all her means, from trees 
And flowers e'en to the Multitude ! — and these, 
Decides he save or no ? One word to end ! 
Ah my Sordello, I this once befriend 590 

553. reads — " Exceeded, so was incomplete for, each one 
sphere — our Time." 558. Sordello] The spirit. 559. during 
the mere] but a single. 561. just] but. 570. would . . . thus] 
and which thus, far from first. 571 surelier] surest quelled — 
rebelled. 



286 SORDELLO 

Book VI And speak for you. Of a Power above you still 
Which, utterly incomprehensible, 
Is out of rivalry, which thus you can 
What Love, tho' unloving all conceived by man — 
might What need ! And of — none the minutest duct 
have j that out- nature, nought that would instruct 
Sa him And so let rivalry begin to live — ■ 
But of a Power its representative 
Who, being for authority the same, 
Communication different, should claim 600 

A course, the first chose but this last revealed — 
This Human clear, as that Divine concealed — 
What utter need 1 ! 

What has Sordello found ? 
Or can his spirit go the mighty round, 
End where poor Eglamor begun 2 ? So, says 
Old fable, the two eagles went two ways 
About the world : where, in the midst, they met, 
Though on a shifting waste of sand, men set 
Jove's temple. 3 Quick, what has Sordello found ? 
For they approach — approach — that foot's rebound 610 
Palma ? No, Salinguerra though in mail ; 
They mount, have reached the threshold, dash the veil 
Aside — and you divine who sat there dead, 
Under his foot the badge : still, Palma said, 
A triumph lingering in the wide eyes, 
Wider than some spent swimmer's if he spies 
Help from above in hi6 extreme despair, 
And, head far back on shoulder thrust, turns there 
With short quick passionate cry : as Palma pressed 

605. poor Eglamor] our souls. 606. eagles went] doves were 
sent. 

^ * The Christian teaching of Love as revealed through God and 

A . Christ might have provect\than higher synthesis Sordello sought 

in vain. Without it all is dark, no answer came to his cry for 
light — -he dies. 

•It was Love which was the saving quality in Eglamor and 
which Sordello could not find. The previous passage, however, 
indicates a higher need in Sordello than in Eglamor, though he 
was on the right path. 

3 The story told us here of the origin of Delphi is given in 
Frazer's Pausanias, and with doves for eagles in Lempriere's 
Classical Dictionary. It was supposed to be the centre of the 
earth — as Love is the centre of life. 



SORDELLO 287 

In one great kiss, her lips upon his breast, 620 Book VI 

It beat. At Rest 

By this, the hermit-bee has stopped 
His day's toil at Goito : the new-cropped 
Dead vine-leaf answers, now 'tis eve, he bit, 
Twirled so, and filed all day : the mansion's fit, 
God counselled for. As easy guess the word 
That passed betwixt them, and become the third 
To the soft small unfrighted bee, as tax 
Him with one fault — so, no remembrance racks 
Of the stone maidens and the font of stone 
He, creeping through the crevice, leaves alone. 630 

Alas, my friend, alas Sordello, whom 
Anon they laid within that old font-tomb, 
And, yet again, alas ! 

And now is't worth 
Our while bring to mind, much less set forth 
How Salinguerra extricates himself After- 

Without SordeUo ? Ghibellin and Guelf math 

May fight their fiercest out ? If Richard sulked 
In durance or the Marquis paid his mulct, 
Who cares, Sordello gone ? The upshot, sure, 
Was peace ; our chief made some frank overture 640 
That prospered ; compliment fell thick and fast 
On its disposer, and Taurello passed 

With foe and friend for an outstripping soul, The 

Nine days at least. Then, — fairly reached the goal, — Sequel 
He, by one effort, blotted the great hope 
Out of his mind, nor further tried to cope 
With Este, that mad evening's style, but sent 
Away the Legate and the League, content 
No blame at least the brothers had incurred, 
• — Dispatched a message to the Monk, he heard 650 

Patiently first to last, scarce shivered at, 
Then curled his limbs up on his wolfskin mat 
And ne'er spoke more, — informed the Ferrarese 
He but retained their rule so long as these 
Lingered in pupilage, — and last, no mode 
Apparent else of keeping safe the road 
From Germany direct to Lombardy 

632. old] cold. 637. out] omitted : " Count " Richard. 
646. nor] no. 



288 SORDELLO 

Book VI For Friedrich, — none, that is, to guarantee 
After- The faith and promptitude of who should next 
math Obtain Sofia's dowry, — sore perplexed — 660 

(Sofia being youngest of the tribe 
Of daughters, Ecelin was wont to bribe 
The envious magnates with ] — nor, since he sent 
Henry of Egna this fair child, had Trent 
Once failed the Kaiser's purposes — " we lost 
" Egna last year, and who takes Egna's post — 
" Opens the Lombard gate if Friedrich knock ? ") 
Himself espoused the Lady of the Rock 
In pure necessity, and, so destroyed 
His slender last of chances, quite made void 670 

Old prophecy, and spite of all the schemes 
-Overt and covert, youth's deeds, age's dreams, 
Was sucked into Romano. And so hushed 
He up this evening's work that, when 'twas brushed 
Somehow against by a blind chronicle 2 
Which, chronicling whatever woe befell 
Ferrara, noted this the obscure woe 
Of " Salinguerra's sole son Giacomo 
" Deceased, fatuous and doting, ere his sire," 
The townsfolk rubbed their eyes, could but admire 680 
Which of Sofia's five was meant. 3 

The chaps 
Of earth's dead hope were tardy to collapse, 
Obliterated not the beautiful 
Distinctive features at a crash : but dull 
And duller these, next year, as Guelfs withdrew 

664. Henry of] Enrico. 677. noted] scented. 678. Of] And. 
681. was] he. 682. earth's] his. 684. but] scarce. 685. reads] 
" Next year, as Azzo, Boniface withdrew." 

1 Sophia was the third of Adelaide's daughtersXunizza being 
the last and youngest. Henry of Egna was of an old established 
Tyrolese family, whose castle lay between Trent and Bolgiano. 
By Sophia he had two children, Henry and Ecelin, named after 
his uncle. He died young ; and as here related Sophia married 
Salinguerra ; the date of her second marriage is uncertain, but 
it was, says Verci, before 1224. 

2 The Parua Chronica Ferrariensis ; see Introd. 

8 See table of family. Browning is right as to number, but 
wrong historically as to the mother. According to Frizzi, in his 
Storia di Ferrara, Salinguerra had five children by his first wife 
Retrude, and one by Sophia, i.e. Giacomo. 



SORDELLO 289 

Each to his stronghold. Then (securely too Book VI 

Ecelin at Campese slept ; close by, After- 

Who likes may see him in Solagna lie, math 

With cushioned head and gloved hand to denote 

The cavalier he was) 1 — then his heart smote 690 

Young Ecelin at last ; long since adult. 

And, save Vicenza's business, what result 

In blood and blaze ? (So hard to intercept 

Sordello till his plain withdrawal !) Stepped 

Then its new lord on Lombardy. I' the nick 

Of time when Ecelin and Alberic 

Closed with Taurello, 2 come precisely news 

That in Verona half the souls refuse 

Allegiance to the Marquis and the Count — 

Have cast them from a throne they bid him mount, 700 

Their Podesta, thro' his ancestral worth. 

Ecelin flew there, 3 and the town henceforth 

Was wholly his — Taurello sinking back 

From temporary station to a track 

That suited. News received of this acquist, 

Friedrich did come to Lombardy 4 : who missed 

Taurello then ? Another year : they took 

Vicenza, left the Marquis scarce a nook 

691. at last] conceive. 694. his plain withdrawal] Sordello's 
option. 690. Ecelin] he at last. 697. come] came. 

1 Campese, which is two miles above Bassano on the west bank 
of the Brenta, had a Benedictine monastery, founded by old 
Ecelin the Stammerer. Remains of it are still there adjoining 
the Parish Church ; while at Solagna, half a mile higher up on 
the east side, there is a sculptured slab of a Benedictine monk, 
gloved and cushioned, built into the north wall horizontally, 
on the outside of the church. This, tradition says, is Ecelin the 
monk's very tomb. He possibly died at Oliero, three miles higher 
up, was buried at Campese, and in the desecration of everything 
connected with the family which followed after 1260 the top of 
the tomb may have been thrown out and finally got built into 
the church at Solagna. They may very likely have brought 
the materials for Solagna from the old monastery at Campese. 

2 This refers to Salinguerra's marriage with Henry of Egna's 
widow, Ecelin's sister ; by which the last hopes of Salinguerra's 
success as an independent chief vanished and he was " sucked 
into Romano ; " see 665 ff. 

3 This was in the winter of 1227. It was incredible says 
Maurisio with what speed Ecelin reached Verona, ' ' quasi volitando 
per aera sic celeriter Veronam intravit." 

4 In 1236, Frederic joined Ecelin in Verona. 



290 S0RDELL0 

Book VI For refuge, and, when hundreds two or three 

After- Of Guelfs conspired to call themselves " The Free," * 710 
math Opposing Alberic, — vile Bassanese, — 
(Without Sordello !) — Ecelin at ease 
Slaughtered them so observably, that oft 
A little Salinguerra looked with soft 
Blue eyes up, asked his sire the proper age 
To get appointed his proud uncle's page. 
More years passed, and that sire had dwindled down 
To a mere showy turbulent soldier, grown 
Better through age, his parts still in repute, 
Subtle — how else ? — but hardly so astute 720 

As his contemporaneous friends professed ; 
Undoubtedly a brawler : for the rest, 
Known by each neighbour, and allowed for, let 
Keep his incorrigible ways, nor fret 
Men who would miss their boyhood's bugbear : " trap 
" The ostrich, suffer our bald osprey flap 
" A battered pinion ! " — was the word. In fine, 
One flap too much and Venice's marine 
Was meddled with ; no overlooking that 2 ! 
She captured him in his Ferrara, fat 730 

And florid at a banquet, 3 more by fraud 
Than force, to speak the truth ; there's slender laud 
Ascribed you for assisting eighty years 
To pull his death on such a man ; fate shears 
The life-cord prompt enough whose last fine thread 
You fritter : so, presiding his board-head, 
The old smile, your assurance all went well 
With Friedrich (as if he were like to tell !) 

710. Of Guelfs] After. 711. vile] there. 730. She] We. 
737. The old] A great. 

1 This is mentioned by Maurisio : Tempore istius conspiraverunt 
quidam contra Albericum et ejus masnatam et faciebant se 
vocari Partem Mberorum. . . . Dominus autem Ecelinus . . . 
violenter et manu potente Baxianum intravit ipsosque proditores 
expugnando superavit. 

a Laurentius, in his Venetian Chronicle, records that the alliance 
of the Venetians with Azzo and the army which captured Salin- 
guerra at Ferrara in 1240 was due to Ecelin's pride in daring to 
attack Venetian territory, " ausus fuerit invadere fines Venetos." 

3 The story is recorded at length by Ricobaldi (see Introd.) 
Salinguerra was betrayed by his lieutenant Ugo da Rambcrti who 
had been bribed by Azzo. 



SORDELLO 291 

In rushed (a plan contrived before) our friends, Book VI 

Made some pretence at fighting, some amends 740 After- 

For the shame done his eighty years — (apart math 

The principle, none found it in his heart 

To be much angry with Taurello) — gained 

Their galleys with their prize, and what remained Capture 

But carry him to Venice for a show x ? oi Salin_ 

— Set him, as 'twere, down gently — free to go f "l" 3 ' 

His gait, inspect our square, pretend observe 

The swallows soaring their eternal curve 

'Twixt Theodore and Mark, if citizens 

Gathered importunately, fives and tens, 750 

To point their children the Magnifico, 

All but a monarch once in firm-land, go 

His gait among them now — " it took, indeed, 

" Fully this Ecelin to supersede 

" That man," remarked the seniors. Singular ! 

Sordello's inability to bar 

Rivals the stage, that evening, mainly brought 

About by his strange disbelief that aught 

Was ever to be done, — this thrust the Twain 2 

Under Taurello's tutelage, — whom, brain 760 

And heart and hand, he forthwith in one rod 

Indissolubly bound to baffle God 

Who loves the world — and thus allowed the thin 

Grey wizened dwarfish devil Ecelin, 3 

And massy-muscled big-boned Alberic 

(Mere man, alas !) to put his problem quick 

740. some] just. 759. ever] omit : fairly before thrust. 

1 Salinguerra, after his capture by Venice and the allies at 
Ferrara in 1240, spent the last five years of his life in captivity 
at Venice as Browning relates. 

2 That is, Alberic and Ecelin, the sons of the monk. As a 
matter of fact they were both adults long since, and Alberic had 
even assisted at Salinguerra's capture out of pique at his brother's 
recent marriage with Selvaggia, the Emperor's daughter, with 
whom he was said to be in love. 

3 " Una notte mentre Adelaide dormiva con suo marito, le 
comparve un demonio e a viva forza voile aver commercio con 
lei ; dal qual illegitimo congresso nacque Ecelino." Aliprandi 
and Platina both relate this story, which is followed by many 
others, and versified by Ariosto in his Orlando Furioso — 

" Ezzelino immanissimo tiranno 
Che fia creduto figlio del demonio." 



292 SORDELLO 

Book VI To demonstration — prove wherever's will 
After- To do, there's plenty to be done, or ill 
math Or good. Anointed, then, to rend and rip — 

Kings of the gag and flesh-hook, screw and whip, 77c 
They plagued the world : a touch of Hildebrand 
(So far from obsolete !) made Lombards band 
Together, cross their coats as for Christ's cause, 
And saving Milan 1 win the world's applause. 
Ecelin perished : and I think grass grew 
Never so pleasant as in Valley Ru 

Fate of By San Zenon where Alberic in turn 

Alberic Saw his exasperated captors burn 

Seven children and their mother ; then, regaled 

So far, tied on to a wild horse, was trailed 780 

To death through raunce and bramble-bush. 2 I take 

God's part and testify that 'mid the brake 

Wild o'er his castle on the pleasant knoll, 

You hear its one tower left, a belfry, toll — 

The earthquake spared it last year, laying flat 

The modern church beneath, — no harm in that ! 

Chirrups the contumacious grasshopper, 

Rustles the lizard and the cushats chirre 

Above the ravage ■: there, at deep of day 

A week since, heard I the old Canon say 790 

He saw with his own eyes a barrow burst 

And Alberic's huge skeleton unhearsed 

Only five years ago. He added, " June's 

" The month for carding off our first cocoons 

" The silkworms fabricate " — a double news, 

Nor he nor I could tell the worthier. 3 Choose ! 

779. and] with. 783. the pleasant] Zenone's. 785-786] 
omittd. 

1 Ecelin's last coup was an attempt upon Milan which would 
have given him all Lombardy ; in this he failed, and was wounded 
and captured in the subsequent righting. 

2 After Ecelin's death Alberic took refuge with his family in his 
castle of San Zenon, three miles south of Bassano. Here he was 
besieged and forced to capitulate. His captors, who had taken 
a solemn vow to extirpate the whole race, killed his wife and 
children before his face, and finally slaughtered Alberic himself, 
as Browning relates. The story is circumstantially told by 
Rolandino and others, and critically by Verci. 

3 San Zenone lies midway between Bassano and Asolo, where 
the remains of the old castle still exist. 



SORDELLO 293 

And Naddo gone, all's gone ; not Eglamor ! Book VI 

Believe, I knew the face I waited for, After- 

A guest my spirit of the golden courts ! math 

Oh strange to see how, despite ill-reports, 800 

Disuse, some wear of years, that face retained A Last 

Its joyous look of love ! Suns waxed and waned, glimpse 

And still my spirit held an upward flight, ^ or g a " 

Spiral on spiral, gyres of life and light 
More and more gorgeous — ever that face there 
The last admitted ! crossed, too, with some care 
As perfect triumph were not sure for all, 
But, on a few, enduring damp must fall, 
— A transient struggle, haply a painful sense 
Of the inferior nature's clinging — whence 810 

Slight starting tears easily wiped away, 
Fine jealousies soon stifled in the play 
Of irrepressible admiration — not 
Aspiring, all considered, to their lot 
Who ever, just as they prepare ascend 
Spiral on spiral, wish thee well, impend 
Thy frank delight at their exclusive track, 
That upturned fervid face and hair put back ! 

Is there no more to say ? He of the rhymes — 
Many a tale, of this retreat betimes, 820 

Was born : Sordello die at once for men ? 
The Chroniclers of Mantua tired their pen 
Telling how Sordello Prince Visconti saved J^e So *~ 

Mantua, 1 and elsewhere notably behaved — Romance 

Who thus, by fortune ordering events, 
Passed with posterity, to all intents, 
For just the god he never could become. 
As Knight, Bard, Gallant, men were never dumb 
In praise of him : while what he should have been, 
Could be, and was not — the one step too mean 830 

For him to take, — we suffer at this day 
Because of : Ecelin had pushed away 
Its chance ere Dante could arrive and take 

823. Sordello] a. 

1 Platina, in his Storia di Mantova, and following him Aliprandi, 
in his rhymed chronicle, makes Sordello a scion of the house of 
Visconti. He saved Mantua by repulsing Ezzelino da Romano 
and compelling him to raise the siege of the city. 



294 SORDELLO 

Book VI That step Sordello spurned, for the world's sake : 
After- He did much — but Sordello's chance was gone, 
math Thus, had Sordello dared that step alone, 
Apollo had been compassed ; 'twas a fit 
He wished should go to him, not he to it 
— As one content to merely be supposed 
Singing or fighting elsewhere, while he dozed 840 

Really at home — one who was chiefly glad 
To have achieved the few real deeds he had» 
Because that way assured they were not worth 
Doing, so spared from doing them henceforth — 
A tree that covets fruitage and yet tastes 
Never itself, itself. Had he embraced 
Their cause then, men had plucked Hesperian fruit 
And, praising that, just thrown him in to boot 
All he was anxious to appear, but scarce 
Solicitous to be. A sorry farce 850 

Such life is, after all ! Cannot I say 
He lived for some one better thing ? this way. — 
Lo, on a heathy brown and nameless hill 
By sparkling Asolo, 1 in mist and chill, 
and of Morning just up, higher and higher runs 

Sordello a child barefoot and rosy. See ! the sun's 
On the square castle's inner-court's low wall 
Like the chine of some extinct animal 
Half turned to earth and flowers ; and through the 

haze 
(Save where some slender patches of grey maize 860 
Are to be overleaped) that boy has crossed 
The whole hill-side of dew and powder-frost 
Matting the balm and mountain camomile. 
Up and up goes he, singing all the while 
Some unintelligible words to beat 
The lark, God's poet, swooning at his feet, 
So worsted is he at " the few fine locks 
" Stained like pale honey oozed from topmost rocks 
" Sun-blanched the livelong summer,"— all that's left 

835. chance] step. 836. dared] ta'en. 857. lowl green. 
858. extinct] fossil. J 5 

1 Asolo, a favourite spot of Browning's, is about ten miles east 
of Bassano among the Italian Alps, and on the eastern edge of 
the Romano country. 



SORDELLO 295 

Of the Goito lay ! And thus bereft, 870 Book VI 

Sleep and forget, Sordello ! In effect After- 

He sleeps, the feverish poet — I suspect math 

Not utterly companionless ; but, friends, 
Wake up ! The ghost's gone, and the story ends 
I'd fain hope, sweetly ; seeing, peri or ghoul, 
That spirits are conjectured fair or foul, 
Evil or good, judicious authors think, 
According as they vanish in a stink 
Or in a perfume. Friends, be frank ! ye snuff 
Civet, I warrant. Really ? Like enough ! 880 

Merely the savour's rareness ; any nose 
May ravage with impunity a rose : 
Rifle a musk-pod and 'twill ache like yours ! 
I'd tell you that same pungency ensures 
An after-gust, but that were overbold. 1 
Who would has heard Sordello's story told. 

1 That is, reading Sordello has been an unusual exercise, but 
one nevertheless that has its own peculiar flavour — not like any 
ordinary poem ; anybody can read the ordinary romance ; but 
if Sordello is an acquired taste, it is nevertheless one which we 
shall return to with pleasure. 



APPENDIX 

Additional Note on Book III., ll. 950-954. 

There has been considerable divergence of opinion as to 
whom these lines refer. Dr Berdoe, in his Cyclopcedia, 
refers the first three to Walter Savage Landor and the 
last two to Empedocles. Mr Duff, in his Exposition, 
refers them all to iEschylus, following Mr Alfred 
Forman. None of them, however, seem to have noticed 
the changes in the text which Browning made when he 
revised the poem for the 1863 edition, and which throw 
considerable light upon the matter. In the first edition 
the passage runs as follows : — 

" Nay, your's, my friend. 
Whose great verse blares unintermittent on, 
like any trumpeter at Marathon ; 
He'll testify who, when Plataes grew scant, 
Put up with Mtna. for a stimulant." 

It is plain that two separate persons are here alluded 
to, one of whom is called up as a witness to Browning's 
esteem for the other. Remembering the passage in the 
Introduction to Book i. ( lines 20-70), when Browning 
calls up an imaginary audience (amongst whom he 
specifies j3Eschylus) to listen to his story, together 
with Browning's early enthusiasm for Landor, and his 
admiration for Browning, and their common love of 
the Greek tragedies, it seems most reasonable to sup- 
pose that Landor and ^Eschylus are the two to whom 
reference is made. When, however, we turn to the 
text of 1863, we find it altered, and in such a way that 
only one person instead of two is referred to. 

" Yours, my patron friend, 
Whose great verse blares unintermittent on. 
Like your own trumpeter at Marathon ; 
You who Plataeas and Salamis, being scant. 
Put up with iEtna for a stimulant." 

297 



298 SORDELLO 

The explanation of these changes would seem to be 
either that Browning forgot the allusion to Landor or 
decided to omit it for his own reasons, and altered the 
passage, so that it refers entirely to ^Eschylus. As the 
passage stands in the revised text, the claims of either 
Landor or Empedocles are remote beside that of 
^Eschylus. Landor was certainly a patron friend, and 
Empedocles threw himself into ^Etna, but Landor had 
nothing to do with Mtna., and I know of no connection 
between Browning and Empedocles. Whereas iEschylus 
went to Hiero, King of Syracuse, and is said to have 
written a play called The Women oj Mtna, of which, no 
doubt, jEtna was "the stimulant " in the same sense as 
Plataea and Salamis were "the stimulants" for the 
Perscs. The alteration from "any trumpeter" to 
"your own trumpeter" further strengthens the claim 
of ^Eschylus. The former might be applied in a general 
sense to any poet, but the latter seems to locate it 
definitely with someone who had a close connection 
with the Battle of Marathon itself. 



INDEX 



Adelaide (The Tuscan), i. 461, 
608 ; sketch of, 752, 995, 
997- — ii- 100. 33°. 34i. 644 ; 
effect of death of, 870 ; Salin- 
guerra's comment on death 
of. 890, 990. — iii. schemes 
of, 360 ; death of, described 
by Palma, 382 ff. ; project 
of, 493. — iv. magic of, 75 ; 
statues of, 146 ; Jove trines 
for, 603 ; staunchness of, 
658 ; rescue of, 736. — v. 
confession, 749 ; her vision, 
765 ; conceals Sordello, 802. 

Adelaide of Susa, iii. 488. 

iEschylus, i. 65. — iii. 951. 

iEtna, iii 954 (Etna). 

Agathon, vi. 141. 

Agiluph, v. 593. 

Alberic (son of the Monk) ; vi. 
opposed by Gnelfs, 710 ; 
description of, 766 ; death 
of, 777. 

Albert (Mantuan), v. 201. 

Alcamo, v. 109, 408. 

Aldobrand, iv. 637. 

Amaranth, i. 372. An imagin- 
ary flower supposed never 
to fade ; " Immortal amar- 
anth a flower which once in 
Paradise, fast by the tree of 
life began to bloom." 

— Milton. 

Anafest, ii. 537. 

Andromeda, ii. 211. 

Angelot, ii. 518. — iv. 612. 

Antonine, i. 594. 

Apis, ii. 92. 

Apollo, i. 898, 927. The Greek 
God who represented all 
male physical and intellectual 
ideals. 



Arabs, i. 398. — iv. 560. 

Arbalist, iv. 326. A crossbow. 

Archimage, simile of, iii. 597. 

Argentine, i. 363. 'Like silver. 

Armenian, i. 345. 

Arpo, i. 245. 

Arras, i. 333. — ii. 517. 

Asolo, vi. 854. 

Asp, simile of, vi. 348. 

Athens, v. 648. 

Athenian, i. 65. 

Atii, i. 295. One of the old 
Roman families from which 
the House of Este is said to 
have claimed descent. 

Azzo, i. 104, 293, 940, 979. — ii. 
345. — iii. 243. — iv. camp of, 
183. 



Barbarossa, Frederick, i. 198, 

256. — iv. 83. 
Basilic, iii. 765. The Basilica 

or Cathedral of S. Mark. 
Basnet, a close fitting helmet, 

iv. 436, 740. 
Beetle-Brows, vi. 407 
Berta, Tiso's wife, v. 287. 
Bianca, ii. 541. 
Blaise, St, gate of, iii. 422. 
Blinkard, v. 14. One with bad 

sight. 
Bocafoli, ii. 768. 
Boccbimpane (Cino), i. 146. — 

iv. 91. 
Boniface, see Richard. 
Breese, ii. 781. 
Brennus, iii. 588. 
Brienne, John of, i. 195, 872. — 

iv. 606. 
Brutus, vi. 455. 
Buccio (Virtu), i. 147. 

299 



300 



SORDELLO 



Bulb, simile of, iii. 220. 
Byssus, iii. 12. 

Byzant, iii. 130. — v. 648. The 
old name for Constantinople. 



Caecuban, v. 66. A district in 
the lower part of Latium in 
Italy highly esteemed for its 
wine in early times. 

Campese, Ecelin buried at, 
vi. 688. 

Carroch, i. 318. — iii. 290. 

Caryatides, i. 413. Carved 
female figures used as 
columns or supports in 
architecture. 

Centaur, vi. 427. 

Charlemagne, Sordello's poem 
of, iii. 633. — v. Emperor, 132, 
223, 968. 

Chronicles, simile of, i. 190, 
300. — vi. 675 ; of Mantua, 
.823. 

Cicala, iii. 260. 

Cino, see Boccimpane. 

Citrine-crystals, vi. 411. 
Crystals of a greenish colour 
like citron. 

Cliffs, simile of, i. 213. 

Cobswan, ii. 932. The leading 
swan of the flock (John- 
son). 

Coil, i. 380. — iii. 407. Turmoil, 
tumult. 

Colibri, iii. 656. 

Concorezzi, iv. 95, 225. 

Congeed, ii. 907. Dismissed, Fr. 
conge. 

Court of Love, ii. 66. 

Crane, i. 709. A Browning 
word, possibly a hybrid of 
" cranium " and " cane." 

Crennelled, i. 908. Worn unto 
holes, e.g. crenated, indented. 

Crescentius, iv. 960. 

Cresset, i. 315. A torch. 

Cruce, vi. 300. Crucible, melt- 
ing-pot. 

Cunizza, v. 995. 

Cydippe, vi. 140. 



D 

Damsel-fly, i. 910. Fr. de- 
moiselle ; dragon-fly. 

Dandolo, iii. 132. 

Dante, i. 349, 367. — vi. 834; 
Div. Com. indicated, i. 368- 
373- — v. 590 ff., 993. 

Daphne, i. 939. 

Delians, i. 933. — ii. 488. 

Desiccate, ii. 730. Dried up. 

Dularete, vi. 181. 



Ecelin (The Monk), i. 106, 139, 
262, 280, 810, 811, 822, 979. 
— ii. expulsion fromVicenza, 
320 ; confers with Paulicians, 
860 ; letter to Salinguerra, 
870-887 ; interviewed by 
Salinguerra, 895-905. — iii. 
Palma describes, 360 ; finds 
Adelaide dead, 402 ; goes 
into monastery, 422, 517 ; 
letter to Salinguerra, 530. — 
iv. crest of, 62 ; gossip about, 
65 ff. ; Podesta at Vicenza, 
536 ; expelled, 540 ff. ; his 
decay, 640 ; Salinguerra's 
opinion of, 764. — vi. death 
of, 650. 

Eglamor, i. 888. — ii. picture of, 
60 ff., 121, 162 ; burial of, 
173 ; art of, 200 ; recognises 
Sordello's power, 243 ; death 
of, 273, 279, 291 ; flower of, 
290 ; his rhymes sung by 
Sordello, 492. — iii. complete- 
ness of song,620. — iv. allusion 
to, 230, 362. — vi. his thought, 
1, 605 ; eulogy on, 797. 

Egna, Henry of, vi. 666. 

Elcorte, ii. 331. — iv. 740. — v. 

3"- 

Elys, Eglamor's prize song, ii. 
68, 77, 139 ; fragment of Sor- 
dello s song. — ii. 151. — v. 
905. — vi. 867. 

Emperor, i. 79, 207. 

Este, Agnes (Mother of Palma), 
i. 461, 943. 

Este, see Azzo. 



INDEX 



301 



Ethiop (simile of), iv. 864. 
Eufemia, St, i. 579. 
Eve, i. 414. 
Eyebright, iii. 967. 



Fasces, v. 298. An axe bound 
round -with rods ; the emblem 
of justice carried by the 
Roman lictors before the 
magistrates. 

Fastuous, iii. 738. Proud. 

Ferrara, i. 107, 129, 165, 179, 
313.— iii. 239, 303, 362; 
rising at, 509, 547. — iv. state 
of, 1 to 112 ; palace of San 
Pietro at, 114 ; Sordello and 
Palmaat, 180 ; Salinguerra's 
connection with, 471 ; palace 
built at, 527. — vi. Salin- 
guerra captured at, 730. 

Filamot, ii. 715. 

Fomalhaut, iii. 430. 

Font, The, i. 411. — ii. 1000; 
Retrude buried by, v. 795 ; 
Sordello buried by, vi. 632. 

Francis (St), v. 202 ; church of, 
at Bassano, iv. 608. 

Frederic II., see Emperor. 

Free, The, vi. 710. 

Fulgurant, v. 43. Thunderous. 



Gadfly, ii. 774. 

Giacomo, son of Salinguerra, 

vi. 678. 
Gibeonites, iii. 825. 
GingUngly, v. 953. 
Giudecca, iii. 693. 
Goito, i, 382 ; Sordello returns 

to, ii. 950 ; quits for Verona 

with Naddo, iii. 252. 
Gregory VII., see Hildebrand 
Griding, i. 67. To cut (Ital. 
gridare). 

" So sore 

The griding sword in discon- 
tinuous wound 

Pass'd through him. — Milton. 
Gnome, simile of, ii. 215. 
Guidone, i. 577. 



H 

Hacqueton, v. 279. A quilted 
leather jacket worn under 
armour. 

Harun al Raschid, v. 447, 453. 

Hercules, iii. 939. — v. 503. 

Hermit-Bee, vi. 621. 

Hildebrand, i. 309 ; portrait 
of, v. 161 ff., 216. 

Honorius, see Pope. 

Hyacinth, ii. 615. 



Intense, i. 70. 
Investiture, v. 154. 



J 



Jacinth, vi. 99. 

John, St, ii. 691 ; legend of, 

iii. 991. 
Jongleurs, ii. 120.. 



K 

King-bird (Phoenix), simile of, 
vi. 583. 



Language, Sordello forms his, 
ii. 570, 681. 

Lentisk, iv. 825. Pistachio 
lentiscus, the tree from which 
mastic is extracted. Grow- 
ing in the Levant and on the 
Mediterranean shores (D.). 

Libyan God, v. 645. 

Linguetta, iv. 482. 

Lodestone, vi. 99. 

Losel, iii. 788. A scoundrel, 
a sorry, worthless fellow. 

Lucchino, v. 278. 

Lucio, ii. 544. 

Lucius, i. 594. 

Lydian King, v. 82. 



302 



S0RDELL0 



M 

Mainard, iv. 43, 322. 

Malek, i. 842. The Arab word 
for a king. — vi. 130. 

Maltraversi, ii. 324. 

Manlius, iii. 592. 

Mangonel, iv. 49, 326. An 
instrument employed in sieges 
for battering walls by hurling 
stones. 

Marathon, i. 66. — iii. 952. 

Marchesalla, iv. 478. 

Mariotic, v. 66. Wine from 
Lake Mareotis in the N. of 
Egypt. 

Marfisa, v. 284. 

Marish-floor, ii. 28. Boggy 
swampy (Johnson)- 

Matilda, iii. 492. 

Mauritanian, v. 57. The citrus- 
tree. A costly wood brought 
from Mauritania, i.e. Morocco 
(D.). 

Meribah, iii. 830. 

Messina, i. 982. 

Metaphysic Poet, iii. 828. 

Miniver, iv. 787. Variegated 
fur. 

Miramoline, i. 869. 

Montelungo, Papal Legate, iv. 
33 ; portrait of, 285. — vi. 
224. 

Montfort, ii. 617. 

Moon, ii. 952 ; Palma's simile 
of, iii. 334 ; Sordello's, vi. 41. 

Moonfern, iii. 2. 

Morse, iii. 124. Walrus. 

Moses, iii. 826. 

Motley, i. 30. Corrupted from 
medley or perhaps moth- 
like, of variegated colours 
The term used for the dress 
of the Court Fool or Jester 
(Johnson). 

Mugwort, iii. 815. 

Murrey-coloured, ii. 715. 



N 

Naddo, i. 694, 748. — ii. 10, 67, 
88, 190, 198 ; view of 
poetry, 196, 235 ; recites 



Eglamor's ode, 276 ; message 
to Sordello, 475, 480 ; criti- 
cises Sordello, 495 and 784, 
648 ; questions Sordello, 750, 
840 ; advises Sordello, 931- 
940 ; praises Salinguerra, 
942. — iii. summons Sordello 
to Verona, 221 ; advises 
Sordello, 249. — iv. his 
common sense, 371. — vi. 178, 

797- 
Nare, iv. 59. Beak. 
Nicolo of Pisa, i. 576. 
Nina, v. in. 

O 

Obsidion, v. 42. A kind of lava 
used for polishing. 

O'er-toise, ii. 828. From Latin 
" tendere " to stretch ; com- 
pare " poise " from " pen- 
dere " to hang. 

Oliero, i. 140, 292. The 
monastery to which Ecelin 
retired. 

Orpine, i. 658. — v. 282. Stone 
crop in the common species. 

Osprey, i. 129, 168. — iv. 59. 
The sea eagle. 

Ostrich, crest of Romano, iv. 

65- 
Otho, i. 198, 275. — ii. 912. — iv. 

584.— v. 183. 
Ounce, i. 167. A kind of 

leopard inhabiting N. Africa, 

Arabia, and the East. 



Palma, i. imaginary picture of, 
753. 949-— ii. 15. 33. 53. 101 ; 
choses Sordello as minstrel. 
122, 346, 390, 64 1 ; leaves 
Goito, 991. — iii. 170, 236; 
her neck, 257 ; with Sor- 
dello in palace, 274 ff. ; re- 
veals her love, 305-550 ; goes 
to Ferrara in disguise, 545 ; 
wisdom, 586. — iv. 374, 392; 
beside the watch-fire, 895. — 
v. in presence chamber, 313, 
323. 398 ; effect of Sordellols 



INDEX 



303 



speech on, 667, 710, 737 ; 
relates secret of Sordello's 
birth, 738-846 ; in the 
gallery with Salinguerra, 
900 if. ; quotes Sordello's 
poem, 905 ; identified with 
Dante's Cunizza, 993, 1008. 
— vi. quoted, 41, 614, 619. 

Palmer worm, i. 633. 

Pappacoda, ii. 825. 

Pauldron, v. 723, 874. A piece 
of armour worn on the 
shoulders. 

Paulician, ii. 865. 

Pavis, i. 116. 

Pentapolin, i. 6. 

Perseus, ii. 211. 

Peter the Hermit, v. 192. 
Preacher of the 1st Crusade. 

Peter (Saint), i. 197. His proxy, 
i.e. the Pope. 

Phanal, iv. 989. From the 
Greek verb to shine ; a 
beacon. 

Piombi, iii. 876. 

Pistore (Bishop), ii. 336. 

Plara, iii. 882, 897. An im- 
aginary poet of Browning's. 

Platsea, iii. 953. A battle 
fought by the Greeks against 
the Persians. 

Platan, iii. 596. 

Plectre, ii. 740. A metal in- 
strument for playing on 
stringed instruments. 

Podesta, i. 151. — iv. 535. 

Pollux, iii. 554; Pott-foot, v. 
265. 

Pompion-twine, ii. 775. 

Potiphar, iii. 823. 

Prata, ii. 335. 

Presence chamber, picture of, 
iv. 385. 

Provence, i. 986. 

Purfle, i. 901. To embroider 
with flowers. 

Pyropus stone, vi. 411. A 
translucent deep red gem 
allied to the garnet. 

Pythons, i. 929. 

Pythoness, v. 81. A priestess 
of the shrine of Apollo at 
Delphi. 
Pyx, i. 591. A box. 



R 

Rathe-ripe, ii. 731. Early ripe, 
positive of " rather." 

Raunce, vi. 781. 

Retrude, ii. 910. — iv. 788. — v. 
755-800. 

Richard, Count Boniface, i. 
103, 167, 175, 939, 980. — ii. 
36, 61, 389, 884. — iii. 236, 
245, 350, 500 ; betrothed to 
Palma, 507 ; quits Verona 
for siege, 515. — v. soldiers' 
rhymes of, 265 ; where im- 
prisoned, 283. — vi. 657. 

Romano, see Ecelin. 

Roncaglia, i. 258. 

Rondel, ii. 516. 

Roundel, iii. 143. For" rungs." 
There is an old form 
" roundle." See Murray Diet. 



Sabines, ii. 178. 

Sage (magic), simile of, ii. 555. 

Salinguerra, Taurello, envoy's 
description of, i. 128 ff. ; 
appearance of, 284 ; intro- 
duces troubadours to 
Italy, 993. — ii. 348 ; Ecelin's 
letter to, 870 ; returns from 
Naples, 892 ff. ; Naddo upon, 
942 ; reception at Mantua, 
910, 1003. — iii. story of rising 
at Ferrara, 241 ff. ; speech 
to Palma, 435 ff., 918. — iv. 
interview with Tito, 38, 57 ; 
palace garden at Ferrara, 
113 ff . ; Sordello's first inter- 
view with, 330 H. ; soliloquy 
in presence chamber, 376 ff. ; 
appearance of, 422 ; his 
history, 470 ; his powers, 
590 ; hatred of Este, 673 ; 
callousness of, 917. — v. Sor- 
dello's speech to, 310 ff. ; 
contempt for Sordello, 360, 
390 ff. ; addresses Palma 
and Sordello, 669 ; throws 
badge upon Sordello, 720 ; 
recognises Sordello, 760 ; 
scene in gallery, 933. — vi. 



3©4 



S0RDELL0 



after Sordello's death, 635 ; 
marriage, 660 ; in old age, 
714 ; captured by Venetians, 

73°- 

San Biagio, iv. 727. — v. 755. 

Saponian, iii. 460. 

Satrap, iii. 14. 

Saturn, v. 555. 

Scarab, ii. 91. 

Sempiternal, i. 353. Eternal 
in futurity ; having begin- 
ning but no end. 

Shelley, apostrophe to, i. 60. 

Sirvent, ii. 516, 686. 

Sidney, Sir Philip, i. 69. 

Sofia, vi. 660. Daughter of 
Adelaide and wife of Henry 
of Egna and Salinguerra. 

Soldan, ii. 970. Sultan. 

Sordello — 

Bk. i. — 329 ; forerunner 
of Dante, 349 ; at the font, 
429 ; appearance in boy- 
hood, 449 ; his weak point 
indicated, 568, 590 ; life at 
Goito, 606 ; his childish 
imagination, 640 ; selfishness 
and want of moral sense, 
684 ; becomes self-conscious, 
700 ; his men and women, 
750 ; his self-deceit, 790 ; 
physical weakness, 825 ; 
Apollo, 898 ; his Delians, 
933 ; Daphne, 939 ; Palma, 
949- 

Bk. ii. — Finds Adelaide's 
Court of Love, 40 ; his prize 
song, 82 ; begins to think, 
127 ; contrasted with 

Eglamor, 200 ; at Eglamor's 
grave side, 287 ; discovers 
story of his birth, 326 ; 
proclaims himself monarch 
of the world, 355 ; as 
universal sympathiser, 390 ; 
chooses song as medium of 
expression, 446 ; invited to 
Mantua by Naddo, 480 ; 
difficulties in song at Mantua, 
490 ff. ; his success, 540 ; 
language, 575 ; song on 
Montfort, 617 ; disappoint- 
ment, 640 ; man and poet, 
663 conversation, 725 ; 



Naddo criticises, 784 ; Naddo 
advises, 930 ; song fails 
him, 940 ; returns to Goito, 
960 ; Naddo's excuse for, 
1010. 

Bk iii. — Nature's effect 
on, 4 ; witnesses earthquake, 
85 ; gives up hope, 100 ; 
view of happiness, 148 ; 
takes courage, 200 ; pride 
touched, 212 ; summons to 
Verona by Palma, 222 ; with 
Palma, 273 ; watches scene 
in square, 285. — i. 338 ; 
Palma's confession to, iii. 305 ; 
her plans for, 515 ; resolves 
on action, 553 ; poem on 
Charlemagne, 632. 

Bk. iv. — -At San Pietro 
palace, 180 ; views Este's 
camp, 183 ; dissatisfied with 
self, 192 ; identifies himself 
with people, 250 ; confronts 
Taurello, 330; inFerrara, 335; 
meets Palma, 375 ; Salin- 
guerra on, 416; at watch-fire, 
894 ; hears story of Cres- 
centius, 960 ; Rome's the 
cause, 1010. 

Bk. v. — Despairs once 
more, 1 ; interviews Taur- 
ello again, 310 ; his great 
speech, 325 ; his idea of the 
poet, 505 ; badge given to, 
720 ; recognises his father, 
740 ; Taurello swears fealty 
to, 840 ; left alone, 890. 

Bk. vi. — Reviews his life, 
30 ; his last struggle, 30-490 ; 
where he failed, 490-550; 
found dead, 610 ; buried, 
620 ; tales of, 820. 
Spilth, iii. 90. Anything spilt 

(n.s. from spill). 
Squarcialupe. A Jongleur. — ii 

120, 783. — v. 1014. 
Strojavacca, ii. 930. 



Tagliafer, ii. 122, 825. 
Tempe, iii. 900. 
Tenron, ii. 516, 686. 



INDEX 



305 



Tetchy, ii. 1010. Touchy. 

Thebes, v. 647. 

Thyrsus, v. 379. A spear 

wrapped round with ivy the 

emblem of Bacchus. 
Tinct, iii. 17. Dye or colour. 
Tiso Sampier, iii. 302 ; death 

of, iv. 614 ; wife of, v. 286. 
Titan, vi. 426 
Tito, iv. 41. — vi. 223. 
Toma, iv. 534. — v. 283. 
Trabea, v. 296. The purple 

robe of state worn by the 

Roman Consuls. 
Trentine Pass, i. 817. 
Triad, v. 650. 
Trifoly, iii. 2. 
Trine, iv. 603. An aspect of 

planets placed in three angles 

of a trigon, in which they are 

supposed by astrologers to be 

eminently benign (Johnson). 
Troubadours, their art, ii. 515. 
Truckman, ii. 480. 
Typhon, v. 502. A giant with 

a hundred snake heads slain 

by Hercules. 
Tyrrhene whelk, iii. 13. 



Valvassor, i. 769. One who 
himself holding of a superior 
lord has others holding of 
him. A feudal term. 

Venice, Browning at, iii. 615, 
677, 725, 761 ; cathedral, v. 
644 ; Salinguerra at, vi. 745. 

Verona, i. II, 87 ; envoys 
story told in, 102, 310 ; 
Sordello at, 330. — iii. 237, 



261 ; scene in square, 285. — 
iv. carroch of, 353. 

Vicenza, ii. sack of, 320. — iv. 
carroch of, 30 ; Ecelin's ex- 
pulsion from, 725. 

Vidal, ii. 714. 

Vimmercato, v. 197. 

Virlai, ii. 515. 

Visconti, vi. 823. 

Vivaresi, ii. 321. 



W 

Weft, ii. 103. 1st Ed. curl. 

Writhen, i. 291 . An old form of 
past part, of writhe; to deform 
with distortion (Johnson). 

Writhled, v. 718. Wrinkled. 



Xanthus, iii. 1013. 



Yoland, i. 245. See Arpo. 



Zanze, iii. 879. An imaginary 
character of Browning's. 

Zin, iii. 817. A desert in Arabia 
traversed by the children of 
Israel in their wanderings. 

For all words not explained 
see notes in the text. 



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